Serie A: Antonio Cassano crosses city divide in Milan derby victory

Dylan Fahy
Antonio Cassano 300x225 Serie A: Antonio Cassano crosses city divide in Milan derby victory

Antonio Cassano leads the celebrations at full-time

Antonio Cassano was exactly the type of player AC Milan were missing in the closing stages of their Derby della Madonnina defeat at the hands of city-rivals Internazionale. The Rossoneri huffed and puffed their way through a tense outing at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, but simply could not conjure up a reply to Walter Samuel’s thumping header after three minutes, despite several gilt-edge opportunities.

Unfortunately for Massimiliano Allegri, the 30-year-old striker was proudly representing the Nerazzurri on Sunday night after parting ways with the club in exchange for Giampaolo Pazzini and €7.5 million in August. The Italian international cited issues with the former Cagliari manager’s style and “unkept promises” from the hierarchy as the reasons behind the controversial move to the club he supported as a child.

Milan have struggled to maintain attendances at the San Siro of late, with a shocking average of 28,005 to date this term. On the night Cassano faced his former teammates, they were the designated ‘home team’ and a significant improvement of over 70,000 packed out the stadium, creating a deafening atmosphere. Disappointingly a further 4,000 tickets went unsold, however, even with sections of the stands closed for maintenance.

An electric build-up was typified by breathtaking choreography from both sets of Ultras before kick-off. The most telling of all unveiled by Inter supporters, who mocked their counterpart’s chaotic summer in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were sold to Paris Saint-Germain. Several banners directed at Cassano’s heart operation last November casted a dark shadow over the beginning of the match. “Play with your heart, without breaking heart,” was one of the many handmade signs held aloft, and reportedly confiscated by officials.

A mere minute and a half into proceedings, Cassano was already at the centre of the action, grafting the free kick that resulted in the opening goal. That was not before Allegri exceeded the limits of his technical area to scream at referee Paolo Valeri for awarding the contested foul.  Samuel subsequently nodded home from fellow countryman Esteban Cambiasso’s curling cross, which left Milan goalkeeper and man of the match against Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League in midweek Cristian Abbiati in no man’s land.

Abbiati was caught out once again only minutes later, when he passed the ball directly to Diego Milito at the edge of the 18 yard box, who squandered two attempts to double his side’s lead. Milan’s victory away from home against Russian champions Zenit had only begun to restore confidence after their worst start to a campaign since 1940, but it was all falling apart in a matter of minutes.

Cassano took no time at all in boiling the Milanese supporters’ blood even further by urging on the Curva Nord at every opportunity while wearing a wry smile. The Rossoneri would descend from the terraces in droves armed with expletives if the stocky frontman went anywhere near the borders of the pitch. While Inter continued to probe, it was the hosts that had the ball in the back of the net first.

Riccardo Montolivo volleyed home from outside the box with five minutes remaining until half time, but Valeri simultaneously stopped play for a nonexistent foul by Urby Emanuelson on Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. The strike was chalked off and Stramaccioni’s men carried their slender lead into the interval, as once again both team’s corresponding sets of supporters made for a thunderous 15-minute break.

The actions of the opening half should have setup a classic end to the derby, with a one-goal deadlock and the underdogs fighting to recover. Yuto Nagatomo’s first ever sending off for a second yellow card early after the restart should have given Milan any additional initiative they required. Pazzini’s entrance against his former outfit meant very little in the overall scheme of things, and despite countless chances and a penalty appeal it was Stramaccioni and Cassano who embraced in celebration at the final whistle.

“This is for you, this is for you,” enthused the Nerazzurri’s Italian tactician as he pointed towards the club’s supporters at full time. Allegri, meanwhile, left the blame at the referee’s door, evening going as far to claim he blew for half time 12 seconds early: “No one can deny that he affected the game, and made several technical errors.”

Inter jump up to fourth on the back of the result, despite losing back-to-back home games for the first time in 75 years already this season. The Italian media has arguably prematurely placed them straight back into the title race alongside Juventus and Napoli on the back of the result, with Stramaccioni drawing comparisons to Jose Mourinho.

Milan remain in the bottom half of the table on the other hand, level on points with recently promoted Pescara and below Torino and Sampdoria, who also only gained status in Serie A this year. Allegri’s neck is getting closer to the chopping line with every passing game domestically, and he desperately needs to reinvigorate his side over the international break.

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