RIYADH: The Supercoppa Italiana, and the bragging rights that go with it, went to Inter Milan on Wednesday evening in Riyadh.
A crowd of just over 51,000 inside King Fahd International Stadium watched the Coppa Italia holders defeat reigning Serie A champions AC Milan 3-0 to lift the trophy on this, the third occasion the showpiece final has been played in the Kingdom.
This was no mid-season, warm-weather friendly. For a start, the temperature inside the stadium had dipped to chilly 9 degrees Celsius. But more importantly, no derby match between these two city rivals is ever anything less than fiercely contested — and certainly not when the first silverware of the season is on the line.
The teams came into the match with AC Milan sitting in second place in the Serie A standings on 38 points, nine behind leaders Napoli, and Inter in fourth on 37, lagging Juventus only on goal difference.
Inter started the game on the front foot and earned a free-kick in a promising position after four minutes, only for it to be struck straight at the defensive wall by World Cup winner Lautaro Martinez. But the Inter fans did not have long to wait for the breakthrough.
Only 10 minutes in, Nicolo Barella broke free on the right side of the AC Milan penalty area and squared the ball to Federico Dimarco, whose left-foot finish left Ciprian Tatarusanu in goal with 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 a corner.
Inter took full advantage of the let-off three minutes later. Edin Dzeko received 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. It was 2-0 already and the Rossoneri were in danger of being seriously embarrassed.
Inter were relentless and on the half hour, Dimarco almost scored his second after taking advantage of another careless defensive mistake but his fierce, left-foot shot was pushed away by Tatarusanu.
Martinez had a chance to put the match to bed in first-half stoppage time but he miscontrolled the ball when put through on goal and Inter had to be content with a two-goal lead at the break.
AC Milan were visibly improved during the early stages of the second half and Leao had a golden chance to halve the deficit, but shot over after finding space for himself just inside the Inter penalty area. Ismael Bennacer also had sight of 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 second-half dominance and close the gap.
Milan continued to press but found clear chances very hard to come by, with Leao in particular resorting to several long-range shots that were either blocked by the Inter defenders or easily gathered by Onana.
With 20 minutes left, coach Simone Inzaghi replaced Barella and Dzeko with Roberto Gagliardini and Joaquin Correa in an attempt to inject a bit more life into the Inter attack but the match continued to follow the same script, with Milan enjoying superior possession but rarely managing to translate it into clear goal opportunities.
Then, on 77 minutes, Martinez redeemed himself for what had been a poor personal performance with a sumptuous finish on 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 delighted Inter fans behind the goal, with the resulting booking being of barely any consequence.
“Ole, ole, ole, Inter, Inter,” sang those in the crowd wearing black and blue. There was no way back for Milan and the remainder of the match was played against a backdrop of celebration by the Inter supporters.
This was Inter’s seventh Italian Super Cup triumph, equaling the number claimed by 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 celebration, a sure indication, if any were needed, of just how much this trophy means to them.
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