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It’s fair to say Serie A sides have enjoyed themselves on the continental stage this season, with six Italian clubs reaching major European quarter-finals for the first time this century.
Three of those teams have been making waves in the Champions League, for which Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli have been touted as genuine contenders after outscoring every other team in the competition.
Meanwhile, rivals Milan and Inter went about their last-16 assignments in quietly impressive fashion, seeing off Tottenham and Porto respectively, both winning 1-0 on aggregate.
With three of Italy’s finest reaching the last eight, a first all-Italian Champions League meeting since 2005 was always highly probable, and so it proved with Milan and Napoli paired together.
With the winner of that tie set to face either Inter or Benfica in the semi-finals, the prospect of a first Italian Champions League winner since Inter’s class of 2009-10 has perhaps never appeared more realistic.
Ahead of a blockbuster tie between last season’s Serie A winners and their likely successors, Stats Perform looks back at the Champions League’s previous all-Italian tussles.
6 – Six Italian teams have been qualified to the Quarter Final stage of the UEFA European competitions for the third time in the history, after in 1998/99 (6) and in 1990/91 (7). Renaissance. pic.twitter.com/SzUXvReUqJ
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 16, 2023
Shevchenko decisive in tight derby double-header
Given the remarkable European pedigree enjoyed by seven-time European Cup/Champions League winners Milan, the fact that the Rossoneri have featured in all five previous all-Italian games in the competition is perhaps unsurprising.
The first two of those came at the semi-final stage in the 2002-03 campaign, when Milan and Inter faced off in a tense double-header ultimately decided by a Rossoneri great.
Milan had reached the last four courtesy of Jon Dahl Tomasson’s last-gasp strike against Ajax, while the Nerazzurri edged out Valencia on away goals.
Hector Cuper’s men had less luck with that rule against their rivals, with Andriy Shevchenko’s ‘away’ goal deciding a tie which ended 1-1 on aggregate – despite, of course, both legs being held at San Siro.
Inter’s Obafemi Martins set up a tense finish after coming on as a substitute, but Carlo Ancelotti’s team held on to reach a first final since 1995 – where they would face another domestic rival.
Dida wins battle of the goalkeepers at Old Trafford
Italian football’s reputation for being risk-averse has not always been warranted, but given the way 2003’s Champions League final between Milan and Juventus played out, that tag is perhaps understandable.
Juve had already edged out both Milan giants to win Serie A by the time they faced the Rossoneri at Old Trafford, for what represented Marcello Lippi’s fourth Champions League final with the Bianconeri (winning in 1996, losing in 1997, 1998 and 2003).
Both defences were on top throughout a nail-biting affair, with Shevchenko seeing a goal ruled out for offside and Antonio Conte rattling the crossbar as the game went to a penalty shoot-out.
With both goalkeepers clearly advancing off the goal line for each spot-kick, Gianluigi Buffon saved from Clarence Seedorf and Kakha Kaladze – only for Dida to go one better by denying David Trezeguet, Marcelo Zalayeta and Paolo Montero as Milan won their sixth European crown.
Dida in the spotlight again as violent scenes mar San Siro clash
Dida was again in the spotlight when two Italian sides last squared off in the Champions League – this time for all the wrong reasons.
The 2004-05 quarter-finals featured another heavyweight derby clash between Milan and Inter – who, as was the case two years earlier – finished the Serie A season in second and third respectively as Juventus triumphed.
Milan have always been Italy’s European kings, however, and goals from Jaap Stam and Shevchenko put them in the ascendency as Ancelotti’s men won the ‘home’ leg 2-0.
When Shevchenko’s first-half effort put the Rossoneri ahead in the return game and Inter – now requiring four goals – saw an Esteban Cambiasso strike ruled out for a foul, the Nerazzurri supporters reacted furiously.
Flares rained down from the stands onto the San Siro pitch, with Dida struck on the shoulder and left requiring treatment for a burn.
Referee Markus Merk attempted to restart the game after a lengthy delay, but when Christian Abbiati was targeted with further missiles, the game was abandoned and Milan were awarded a 3-0 win, making it 5-0 on aggregate and leading to condemnation from across the continent.
From a Milan point of view, the less said about their subsequent trip to Istanbul for the 2005 final against Liverpool, the better.
Milan vs Napoli #UCLdraw pic.twitter.com/zuPnTTWA3q
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 17, 2023