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Milan vs Inter Champions League semi-final: What happened in the all-Milanese last-four meeting in 2003?

UEFA.com turns the clock back almost exactly 20 years to remember the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League semi-final tie between AC Milan and Inter.

Paolo Maldini and Andrea Pirlo celebrate Milan's 2002/03 semi-final defeat of Inter
Paolo Maldini and Andrea Pirlo celebrate Milan's 2002/03 semi-final defeat of Inter Getty Images

UEFA.com reporter Paolo Menicucci was at San Siro for both legs of the all-Milanese UEFA Champions League semi-final in 2002/03. As the teams prepare to meet at the same stage this season, Paolo casts his mind back almost exactly 20 years to reflect on those last-four meetings, the players involved, his own personal recollections and what the world looked like at the time.

Milan vs Inter build-up

The 2002/03 campaign was my first as a UEFA reporter. It was one to remember, one that entailed a mountain of work in a magical season for Italian teams in the UEFA Champions League. The all-Italian final between Milan and Juventus in Manchester followed a Milanese derby in the semi-finals which enraptured the entire city for six long and tense days.

Watch Milan vs Inter 2003 highlights

Inter and Milan once again go head-to-head in the last four of the UEFA Champions League, 20 years after that pulsating tie. At least I know how it feels this time around, and I'm not the only one. "It was a short week: Wednesday to Tuesday, we had six days of total tension," said former Milan player and current director Paolo Maldini.

Maldini's long-time team-mate Alessandro Costacurta added: "Those derbies dominated the previous month of work. Those were the worst days of my long football life. I was already 37, I was experienced and I didn't have to deal with performance anxiety. But it was impossible not to think constantly about those games."

This time, the outcome is sure to be different. In 2003 Milan qualified for the final after two draws against Inter: 0-0 when the Rossoneri were the home side, and 1-1 when Inter were the nominal hosts. The away-goals rule is now gone, however, meaning a repeat would lead to extra time.

In games like this, a single moment can remain with you for the rest of your life. After the goalless draw in the first leg, Andriy Shevchenko scored the crucial 'away' goal for Milan in the return. Six minutes from time, substitute Obafemi Martins struck the equaliser before another Inter replacement, Mohammed Kallon, found himself with only Christian Abbiati – in for the injured Dida – to beat. Score and the Nerazzurri are in the final.

Christian Abbiati celebrates Milan's 2003 success over Inter
Christian Abbiati celebrates Milan's 2003 success over InterGetty Images

The Milan goalkeeper somehow deflected his shot wide with his knee. "If there is one game I would like to play again, it is that derby in 2003," said Kallon after his retirement. Abbiati added: "The one from Kallon will remain the most important save I made in a derby in my entire career."

History is repeating itself, but this was a different time.

The White Stripes had just released their famous hit Seven Nation Army, which has since become a mainstay of major football tournaments. In cinemas, Finding Nemo was the most-watched film ahead of other great movies such as Kill Bill Vol.1, Mystic River and Lost in Translation. The original Ronaldo was holder of the Ballon d'Or, having fired Brazil to FIFA World Cup glory the previous year.

Stefano Pioli was coaching in the Chievo Verona youth system, Simone Inzaghi was still playing at Lazio. Alessandro Bastoni, Brahim Díaz and Rafael Leão – all born in 1999 – were in kindergarten. Inter's promising midfielder Valentín Carboni was not even born.

And, 20 years on – where has the time gone? – where are the protagonists of that tie now?

2002/03 semi-final line-ups

Milan 0-0 Inter
Milan: Dida; Costacurta, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso (Redondo 78), Brocchi (Serginho 73), Seedorf; Rui Costa; Shevchenko (Rivaldo 81), Inzaghi

Inter: Toldo; Córdoba, Materazzi, F Cannavaro, Coco (Pasquale 84); J Zanetti, Sergio Conceiçao (Guglielminpietro 66), Di Biagio, Emre Belözoğlu; Crespo, Recoba (Kallon 72)

Inter 1-1 Milan
Inter: Toldo; J Zanetti, F Cannavaro, Materazzi, Córdoba; Sergio Conceição, C. Zanetti, Di Biagio (Dalmat 46), Emre Belözoğlu; Recoba (Martins 46), Crespo (Kallon 71)

Milan: Abbiati; Costacurta, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso, Pirlo (Brocchi 89), Seedorf; Rui Costa (Ambrosini 64); Shevchenko, Inzaghi (Serginho 80)

Héctor Cúper was the Inter coach and Carlo Ancelotti was in the dugout for Milan, in the infancy of his 4-3-2-1 'Christmas tree formation' revolution. Ancelotti had one of, if not the best, midfields I've ever seen – the sophisticated trio of Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and Rui Costa allied with the gritty and tireless Gennaro Gattuso.

Both teams were full of great champions. Many of them are still in football with important executive roles, like both captains Javier Zanetti (Inter vice-president) and Maldini (director of the technical sector at Milan). Rui Costa, meanwhile, is the president of Benfica, the team Inter eliminated to reach the last four this season.

Several others have tried their hand at coaching with varied success. Sérgio Conceição is one of the most promising coaches in Europe right now after achieving great results with Porto. Gattuso left Valencia earlier this year. Filippo Inzaghi, the brother of current Inter boss Simone, is at the helm of Serie B team Reggina. Fabio Cannavaro is also in the Italian second tier with Benevento after his experiences in China. Emre Belözoğlu and Pirlo are both coaching in Türkiye, at İstanbul Başakşehir and Fatih Karagümrük respectively, while Hernán Crespo is at the helm of Al-Duhail in Qatar.

Milan and Inter line up prior to the first leg of their 2002/03 semi-final
Milan and Inter line up prior to the first leg of their 2002/03 semi-finalGetty Images

Álvaro 'El Chino' Recoba is now coaching the Club Nacional reserves, but also lists an appearance on Uruguayan Celebrity Masterchef on his CV – an 'Olimpicos de copetin' sandwich is his speciality, in case you were wondering.

Kakhaber "Kakha" Kaladze has been the mayor of Tbilisi since November 2017 after covering the roles of deputy prime minister as well as minister of energy in his native Georgia.

Many of those players are still very popular figures among Italian fans thanks to their roles as UEFA Champions League TV pundits. Among that number is Seedorf, who represented both clubs during his career and remains the only player to have lifted the trophy with three different teams.

"There was great tension 20 years ago," said Seedorf. "There were two draws. In the return leg I had the assist for Sheva's goal. Now Milan and Inter deserve to have reached this milestone again. I expect two exciting derbies, I can't wait. Italy will once again have a team in the Champions League final."

Will it be Inter, the last Italian team to lift the UEFA Champions League trophy, in 2010, or seven-time European champions Milan, who are on a mission to return to the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul and banish once and for all the memories of their 2005 final defeat by Liverpool?

One thing's for sure: there won't be much in the way of sleep in Milan the night after that second leg.