Goalkeeper Dida rose above the crowd to keep AC Milan on course for a second final in three years.
By Ivan Carvalho at the Giuseppe Meazza
On a night when the second leg of Milan's European derby was overshadowed by events off the pitch, Nelson de Jesus Silva Dida stood head and shoulders above the crowd.
AC Milan's composed goalkeeper kept FC Internazionale Milano at bay for more than 70 minutes. He made a series of excellent saves before a flare thrown from the stands struck him as he cleared debris hurled into his penalty area after Inter had had a strike disallowed.
The flares and other objects thrown on to the pitch forced referee Markus Merk to abandon the match with the Rossoneri leading 1-0 on the night and 3-0 overall. Just as in the semi-final meeting between the two sides two years ago, Inter had again been foiled by their bitterest rivals when it mattered most.
But the conduct of the Inter supporters who forced the abandonment should not distract from the achievements of Dida, who has now prevented Inter from scoring in almost 400 minutes of football. Working with Milan's impregnable back four, the Rossoneri goalkeeper kept his sixth successive clean sheet in the Champions League. The fact that FC Barcelona's Ronaldinho - in a display of skill worthy of his FIFA World Player award - was the last player to beat Dida, on Matchday 4, speaks volumes for both Brazilians.
Dida's first intervention saw him leap off his line to deflect away Juan Sebastián Verón's powerful strike. Inter coach Roberto Mancini - sitting on the home bench this time - must have thought he was reliving the first leg when the goalkeeper pushed away another shot from the Argentinian midfield player. That, and a fine save to thwart Kily González, gave Milan some breathing space after a difficult opening half-hour, before Andriy Shevchenko scored the winner with another brilliant strike.
With a three-goal advantage, Dida was able to organise his defenders and defuse any threat from Adriano - back for the first time in three weeks after a knee injury - in the opening 45 minutes. Once Inter's powerful Brazilian striker had departed early in the second half, substitutes Obafemi Martins and Julio Cruz ran up against the same problem, Dida repelling their advances with the help of centre-back Jaap Stam.
Through an unspoken communication with Stam and Alessandro Nesta, Dida ensured that Martins was jockeyed by Stam on one occasion and his shooting angle closed down. Then Stam successfully shepherded Martins out of the box as he threatened again. When Verón did finally find space to shoot, he was foiled by the perfect positioning of Dida and the Milan defence and his low drive skimmed wide of the post.
Any debate about Dida's prowess during this stretch of 526 minutes without conceding a goal in the Champions League was silenced on 70 minutes. Inter winger Andy van der Meyde released a powerful, low right-footed shot that seemed destined for the far corner. But Inter were again frustrated, Dida pulling off his finest save of the evening to push the ball away for a corner.
It was from that corner that Merk disallowed Esteban Cambiasso's header, an event which led to the deluge of objects raining down from behind Dida's goal. The goalkeeper was struck on the shoulder by a flare and, holding an ice pack to dull the pain, he and the rest of the squad left the field - no doubt somewhat comforted by another outstanding performance from the Milan goalkeeper.