A second-half goal from striker Lautaro Martinez gave Inter Milan a 1-0 victory over rivals AC Milan in their Champions League semi-final second leg on Tuesday.
Milan restored some of the spark they lacked in the first leg, but Inter’s Martinez tied the tie as he struck powerfully from close range at San Siro in the 74th minute.
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Inter went into the match 2-0 up after Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan struck early in a flying start to the first leg and never looked in serious danger of missing the final, where they would face either Real Madrid or Manchester City on June 10.
Inter, who defeated Portuguese pair Porto and Benfica to reach the semi-finals, will play in the final for the sixth time and for the first time since they won their third European Cup in 2009/10 under Jose Mourinho.
“There was a lot of history in this game. I felt it, we did a great job in both games,” said Martinez, who won the World Cup with Argentina in December.
The unity of the group [motivated us]. I experienced it at the World Cup, that’s important. If you have a united group, it’s easier. We showed that Inter deserve this moment.
“Playing in the Champions League final is a dream. We started this season with goals and today we achieved a very important one.”
Intercoach Simone Inzaghi fielded an unchanged squad from the first leg, with Martinez and Dzeko up front, having rested Serie A players this weekend.
Chief striker Rafael Leao returned for Milan after an adductor problem sidelined him in the first leg, with Junior Messias and Malick Thiaw starting in place of Alexis Saelemaekers and Simon Kjaer.
A much more daring Milan side could have scored early, but Inter keeper Andre Onana saved a low shot from Brahim Diaz that headed for the bottom right corner.
Leao had a great chance to halve the deficit late in the first half, but hit centimeters wide, before Milan keeper Mike Maignan beautifully deflected Dzeko who jumped high to catch a free kick.
While Stefano Pioli’s Milan continued to look for an opening for a comeback, Inter hinted in the first half that they would not go off the gas.
Martinez eventually proved Milan’s hangman, playing a one-two with substitute Romelu Lukaku before scoring his sixth goal in Inter’s last six games.
It is the first time Inter have progressed beyond a knockout draw with only Milan in the competition, with Milan coming out on top in both the 2002–03 semi-finals and 2004–05 quarters.
It is also the first time in almost 50 years that Milan have lost to Inter four times in one season, the only other time being in 1973/74.
And never before in their history had they played four games in a row without finding the net against Inter.
“It is clear that we dreamed of the final and wanted to beat our rivals,” Pioli said.
“Not succeeding brings disappointment, but we will have to focus on the championship. The real disappointment would be not playing in the Champions League next year.”
Milan, who have won just two in their last seven Serie A games, are in danger of dropping out of Europe’s elite club competition next season as they are currently four points clear of the top four.
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