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Stars align as Nerazzurri claim 20th Serie A crown

Updated: 2024-04-24 09:44
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Inter Milan's Marcus Thuram celebrates winning the Serie A title with Lautaro Martinez after beating crosstown rival AC Milan 2-1 at the San Siro on Monday. REUTERS

MILAN — Winning the Derby della Madonnina ended up being the cherry on top of a special night for Inter Milan.

By holding off AC Milan with a 2-1 win on Monday, Inter clinched the Serie A title, earning a coveted second star on its jersey for winning a 20th Italian league title and breaking the tie with its fierce crosstown rival.

"I told the guys, 'We find ourselves in a situation that's never happened before,'" Inter captain Lautaro Martinez said. "We needed to take advantage of this opportunity, because look around, the entire stadium is ours now."

Not even the pouring rain could dampen the spirits of the Nerazzurri and their fans.

Francesco Acerbi and Marcus Thuram scored and, although Fikayo Tomori's late goal for AC Milan threatened to delay the celebrations, Inter held on for the win that stretched its lead to an insurmountable 17 points over second-placed Milan, with five rounds remaining.

At the final whistle, a beaming Lautaro and teammate Federico Dimarco climbed onto the top of the goal frame at the San Siro.

Flares and fireworks were set off in the stands, and the Inter players danced in front of their raucous fans. A banner was unfurled saying in Italian: "Repeat it to the Madonnina, who are the champions and who are the crybabies?"

The Madonnina is the statue on top of Milan cathedral that overlooks the city, and what the derby is named after.

After winning eight other trophies, Simone Inzaghi claimed his first league title as a coach.

"Winning the league with five matches left — more or less won with nine matches left, today making it mathematically certain — in a derby, with Milan the home team, that is something that will remain with us," Inzaghi said.

"Everyone made a very valuable contribution so that we could reach goals like this."

A star is awarded for every 10 Serie A titles. Only Juventus has won more, with a record 36 and, thus, has three stars on its jersey.

Inter was technically the away team on the night, and only one end of the stadium that both teams share was reserved for its black-and-blue-clad support.

Prior to the match, Inter had won the past five derbies, including both legs of the Champions League semifinal last year and a 5-1 Serie A humiliation of Milan earlier this season.

It started off no different on Monday, as the Nerazzurri were in front from the 18th minute, when Benjamin Pavard nodded on Federico Dimarco's corner for an unmarked Acerbi to head in from close range.

Lautaro should have doubled Inter's lead seven minutes later when he found himself woefully unmarked, but the league's top goalscorer inexplicably fired over the bar from point-blank range.

Milan seemed to draw confidence from that miss, and Rafael Leao had a great chance to level following a rapid counterattacking break by Fikayo Tomori, but he fired straight at Inter goalkeeper Yann Sommer.

It was end-to-end action and Milan captain Davide Calabria also forced a great save from Sommer at the end of the first half.

But, Inter clinching the crown seemed inevitable less than four minutes after the restart, when Thuram ran onto a long Alessandro Bastoni ball over the top, feinted around his marker to cut in from the left along the edge of the area before drilling the ball into the near bottom corner.

However, there was tension in the air when Milan pulled one back 10 minutes from time. Sommer did brilliantly to parry Matteo Gabbia's header onto his post, but Tomori nodded in the rebound. Tomori grabbed the ball and gestured frantically to teammates as he raced back to the center circle, desperate to get the equalizer that would prevent Inter from securing the title.

As tempers flared, a scuffle broke out in stoppage time and Milan's Theo Hernandez and Inter defender Denzel Dumfries were sent off. Calabria was also shown a red card five minutes later following another scuffle.

Delighted captain

Striker Martinez said he was close to tears after it became the first side to clinch the Serie A title in the Milan derby.

Martinez, the top scorer in Serie A with 23 goals, celebrated his first Scudetto victory as Inter captain having also won the title in 2021.

"Now, I feel like crying because we worked so hard, suffered so much, we deserved this joy. I dedicate it to my family in Argentina, my children, my teammates and all the fans," the 26-year-old told DAZN.

"I told the lads, we were in a situation that had never happened before, we had to make the most of this opportunity to win in a Rossoneri stadium."

The Argentina international said he is keen to remain at Inter though they have yet to conclude an extension to his current deal, which expires in June 2026.

"I hope so (to renew), we need to reach an agreement with the club," Martinez said.

Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta told Sky Italia they were in talks over a new five-year contract with the forward. " (There will be no problems with renewal), absolute loyalty after winning his seventh trophy with Inter," he added.

Agencies via Xinhua

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