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Fans provide colour in city classic
14.5 || Seamus

When Internazionale FC and AC Milan were drawn together in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, the hope was that they would serve up a classic.

Public undeterred
First time around, that never quite happened, last Wednesday's match having ended in stalemate. However, the Milan public were undeterred by the media criticism that followed the first leg and the day before this return match sold-out signs were put up outside the San Siro.

Used to disappointment
Even if the paper talk of impending doom at both clubs were true, this interest was no surprise. Inter supporters are used to disappointment. They would be the first to acknowledge their club's masochistic streak after Héctor Cúper's team this week were denied the Serie A title for the second year running . According to the Corriere dello Sport newspaper, even in southern Italy, where Inter have a particularly large fan base, Nerazzurri lovers knew better than to shout the odds this week.

Milan concern
Meanwhile, Milan fans had good reason for caution as well, the prospect of a third competitive season victory against the old enemy seeming too good to be true. Moreover, the prospect of defeat in 'il derbissimo' was too awful to contemplate. Inter have treated Milan's relegations from Serie A in 1980 and 1982 as badges of honour, and the Rossoneri were loathe to concede further ammunition in the bragging wars. Yet despite the uncertainties, they too bought up their 8,000-strong allocation.

Wide interest
Not surprisingly, the stadium was full with at least an hour to go before the main event. But then the 600 accredited journalists arriving for this match from such far reaches as China, Senegal, and the Sun (the British tabloid, that is), had been warned by the Gazzetta dello Sport to expect crowds long before kick-off. "Spanish and English fans arrive at their stadiums with five minutes to spare," it said, "we get there an hour before because we like the liturgy of the stadium."

Chorus of car horns
That liturgy began with a chorus of car horns in the streets around football's version of La Scala as 5pm approached. Other features included the sparklers that Inter fans held aloft on the Curva Nord as the players entered the arena, and the black and blue balloons they released into the balmy May sky. The Milan contingent on the Curva Sud also added colour, decked in uniform red.

Rivalry cooled
Remarkably, though, the rivalry between these clubs' supporters is said to be restrained, with arguments usually settled in bars and restaurants, not outside them. And they did not disappoint with their behaviour here: Milan fans were able to celebrate openly in Inter areas of the ground after Andriy Shevchenko struck the deciding goal in first-half stoppage time.

Tempers cool
Certainly, despite tonight's five bookings, tempers have cooled since the birth of this footballing feud. One match in 1915 was abandoned after a brawl involving players and spectators. Yet against a backdrop of improved relations, Inter and Milan later joined forces to stage an international club competition of their own - the Copa Mundalito - in the 1980s, when their fortunes on the European front were at a low ebb.

Upwardly mobile
Tonight though they had the perfect context for their 255th meeting and the only disappointment was that one side had to lose, Inter's late resurgence after Obafemi Martins's equaliser proving to be in vain. Inter's traditional nickname is 'bauscia', meaning 'nouveau riche' in the local dialect. However, it is Milan, originally the blue-collar team of workers or 'casciavit', who are the upwardly mobile force.

By Patrick Hart





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