"The team was perfect tonight, setting very high standards." Fabio Capello
In the midst of a 58-game unbeaten run in Serie A and fresh from Marco van Basten's four-goal demolition of IFK Göteborg in the group-stage opener, star-studded AC Milan were always expected to beat PSV Eindhoven. Yet for once it was not Van Basten, Jean-Pierre Papin, Daniele Massaro or Aldo Serena who spearheaded their triumph but an unheralded pair.
Fabio Capello's side began brightly in Eindhoven and were soon ahead with a goal made in the Netherlands. Van Basten outstripped full-back Raymond Beerens on the left and lofted an awkward bouncing ball towards the far post where another of the Rossoneri's Dutch trio, Frank Rijkaard, headed in from an acute angle.
Rijkaard was outstanding as the Rossoneri took a firm grip on proceedings but time and again, through a combination of last-ditch tackles and wasteful finishing, a second eluded them. With the prolific Romário, scorer of both PSV's goals in their 2-2 draw at FC Porto a fortnight earlier, lurking at the other end, the lead remained precarious.
For once luck did not seem to be on Milan's side, the departure of Ruud Gullit on the hour to injury apparently confirming that. On came Stefano Eranio, though, and within two minutes he had fashioned the second. Finding space on the right, he delivered a cross to the near post that the 23-year-old Marco Simone stabbed between Hans van Breukelen's legs.
The two-goal cushion was short-lived as Romário, with his back to goal and Paolo Maldini at close quarters, flicked the ball up, controlled it on his knee and pirouetted to lash high into the net. Yet rather than spark the comeback it was Milan and Simone who dominated the closing stages – only Van Breukelen and then a post denied him a second.
"The team was perfect tonight," said Capello. "We just missed a few opportunities to kill the game off but we are setting very high standards. We are in the driving seat to reach the final now. Simone was exceptional."
The man himself was keeping his feet firmly on the ground. "I'm ready to go back on the substitute bench if I have to," he said. "This squad has 25 great champions and in attack there are players who have won the Ballon d'Or yet the winning mentality is amazing. Papin was the first to congratulate me after my goal even if he was not playing."