RIYADH: The Supercoppa Italiana, and bragging rights, went to Inter.
In front of a crowd of just over 51,000 at King Fahd International Stadium, the Italian cup holders defeated the reigning Serie A champions AC Milan 3-0 to lift the third showpiece final to be played in the Kingdom.
This was no mid-season, warm-weather friendly.
For a start, the temperature inside King Fahd International Stardom had dipped to chilly 9C and, more importantly, no derby match between these two city rivals is ever anything less than fiercely contested, and certainly not when the first trophy of the season is on the line.
The teams came into the match with Milan second in the Serie A standings on 38 points, a hefty nine behind leaders Napoli, while Inter are in fourth on 37 points, behind Juventus on goal difference.
Inter started on the front foot and free-kick from promising position after four minutes was struck straight at the defensive wall by World Cup winner Lautaro Martinez. But their fans in the stadium didn’t have to wait long for the breakthrough.
Only 10 minutes into the match Nicola Barella broke free on the right side of the Milan penalty area and squared the ball to Federico Dimarco, whose left-finish gave Ciprian Tatarusanu in goal no chance.
The Serie A champions had their best chance of the half on 18 minutes when Portuguese international Rafael Leao’s curling shot from a tight angle was turned over by Andre Onana for corner.
Inter took full advantage of the let-off three minutes late, Edin Dzeko receiving the ball from Alessandro Bastoni inside the Milan penalty box before showing brilliant skill to cut onto his right foot and slide the ball past Tatarusanu; 2-0 and the Rossoneri were in danger of being embarrassed.
Inter were now relentless, and on the half hour Dimarco almost scored his second of the match after taking advantage of another careless mistake in the Milan defence, but his fierce left foot shot was pushed away by Tatarusanu.
Martinez had a chance to put the natch to bed in stoppage time but miscontrolled the ball when put through on goal, and Inter had to be content with a two-goal lead at the break.
Milan were visibly improved in the early stages of the second half and Leao had a golden chance to reduce the deficit, but shot over after finding space from himself just inside the Inter penalty area. Ismael Bennacer also had sight of the Inter goal but shot straight at Onana.
On 65 minutes, Milan coach Stefano Pioli brought on Charles De Ketelaere, Divock Origi and Pierre Kalulu for Brahim Diaz, Junior Messias and Simon Kjaer, as they looked to consolidate their dominance.
Milan continued to press but were finding clear chances very hard to come by, with Leao in particular resorting to several long range shots, which were either blocked by the Inter defenders or easily gathered by Onana.
With 20 minutes left, Simone replaced Barella and Dzeko with Roberto Gagliardini and Joaquin Correa to inject more life into Inter’s attack, but the match continued the to follow the same script: Milan’s superior possession rarely being translated into goal opportunities.
Then, on 77 minutes gone, Martinez banished a previously poor personal performance with sumptuous finish with the outside of his right foot to give Inter a commanding 3-0 lead.
The Argentine striker celebrated by taking off his shirt in front of the celebrating Inter fans behind the goal, his ensuing booking of barely any consequence.
“Ole, ole, ole, Inter, Inter,” sang those in black and blue.
There was no way back now for Milan now, and the remainder of the match was played to the backdrop of celebration by the Inter supporters.
The final signalled Inter’s seventh Italian Super Cup triumph, equalling the record of their defeated opponents. Juventus, with nine wins, remain the competition’s record title holders.
As the lights inside the stadium dimmed, the Inter players joined their fans in joyous celebrations, an indication of just what the trophy means to them.
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