Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nel Profondo dell’Anima


When you mention AC Milan, certain images are conjured up. Most of them champions, doing what champions do best: winning. And not winning just anything. Milan have seven Champions League trophies, with only one club, Real Madrid, claiming more. It may seem ridiculous to be recalling the glory days with a team that is rebuilding after burning down the house, so to speak. And even more so when our opponents for the Round of 16 are the almighty Barcelona. But Milan’s tradition of excellence in the Champions League is “nel profondo dell’anima,” or “in the depths of the soul.”

Cesare Maldini celebrates with the trophy in 1963

Some of you may know that the Champions League as we know it today actually only began in 1993. Before that, it was known as the European Cup, and four of our European trophies came under that format. When comparing with Real Madrid, it is also of note that they won the first 5 European cups from 1955-1960 with a formidable amount of talent in Ferenc Puskás, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Gento and José Santamaría. They have only won 4 trophies since that dominating era, whereas Milan have won all seven trophies between 1963-2007, creating a legacy of excellence for the club that makes even Barcelona nervous to face us. That legacy is celebrated in the seven trophies Milan has claimed and the seven campaigns which they earned them in.


Milan’s first trophy was won in 1963, when Milan started out by beating US Luxembourg by an aggregate score of 14-0. In the second round, they beat Ipswich Town 3-0, then lost 2-1 in the return leg, but the 4-2 total was enough to send them to the quarterfinals with Galatasaray, where they only conceded one goal in an 8-1 aggregate win. The semifinals saw them face Dundee, with a 5-1 win followed by a 1-0 loss, for a 5-2 aggregate score to sent them to the final. The final was vs. Benfica at Wembley Stadium, where Milan won, 2-1 with both Milan goals by Altafini. This victory was won under legendary Milan manager Nereo Rocco and with Milan legend Cesare Maldini lifting the trophy as captain.

 Gianni Rivera and company lift the coveted trophy in 1969

The 1969 campaign for Milan began with a 5-3 aggregate win over Swedish club Malmo, which would eventually be the springboard to the career of one Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In this format, Milan had a bye for the second round, and went on to face Scottish side Celtic in the Quarterfinals with only 1 goal between the two ties. The semifinals saw them face off against English giants Manchester United, just 12 years following the Munich Air Disaster. Milan triumphed 2-0 in the first leg and lost 1-0 in the second leg, seeing them progress on a 2-1 aggregate score. The final was played at the Bernabeu against Dutch first-time finalists Ajax. Milan won this match 4-1 with the legendary Gianni Rivera lifting the trophy, with Nereo Rocco still calling the shots.

There would be a 20 year European drought for Milan, during which time Milan were relegated from Serie A twice, and the club was purchased by one Silvio Berlusconi in 1986. So it was with the help of the Dutch Trio of Van Basten, Gullit, and Rijkaard, Milan won their third European cup in 1989. First to fall would be Bulgarian side Vitosha, losing 7-2 on aggregate. The second round was the most competitive of the rounds, when Milan drew both ties to Red Star Belgrade 1-1 each time and settled it on penalties. The quarterfinal also saw them struggle against Werder Bremen, winning the second tie on a single goal. The semifinals saw them face off against Spanish powerhouses Real Madrid. After a 1-1 draw, Milan dominated the 2nd leg 5-0 to progress to the final. Captain Franco Baresi would lift the trophy after beating Romanian side Steaua Bucharest 4-0.

Three Dutchmen and a bunch of Italians claimed back to back victories in 1989 and 1990

Milan would repeat as champions in 1990. Beginning with a 5-0 aggregate win over Finnish side HJK Helsinki. Milan then dispatched Real Madrid with a 2-0 win and a 1-0 loss in the second round. The quarter final was against Belgian side Mechelen, where two goals in the second leg saw Milan through. The semi-final against Bayern Munich saw a 1-0 win and a 2-1 loss decided on away goals for Milan. Once again, Milan would face Benfica in the final in Vienna, where Rijkaard’s singular goal afforded Baresi to lift the trophy for the second year running under Sacchi’s reign.

After losing in the final to Marseille in 1993, Milan would win their first trophy of the Champions League era in 1994. Winning over Swiss side Aarau 1-0 on aggregate in the first round, they were more decisive in the second round against FC Copenhagen, to the tune of 7-0 total from both legs. The semifinal group stage saw them draw goalless in both ties to Anderlecht, take Porto 3-0 and then Werder Bremen 3-2 aggregate to take first place in the group. They then beat Monaco 3-0 in the Semifinal to send them through to the final in Athens. This match saw them destroy Barcelona 4-0, with 2 goals by Massaro, and one each from Savicevic and Desailly, and also the biggest margin of victory in a Champions League final. With captain Baresi suspended for the match, It was actually Mauro Tassotti to lift the trophy with legendary manager Fabio Capello at the helm.

The sheer joy in Manchester in 2003, with a couple of current players amongst the confetti

Milan again made it to the finals in 1995, only to lose to Ajax. So their next trophy was in 2003, when they kicked off the qualifying round by winning Slovan Liberac on away goals, with an aggregate of 2-2. In the First Group Round, they took first place with 12 points in Group G on goal differential with opponents consisting of Deportivo La Coruña, Lens, and Bayern Munich. In the second round, they won 1-0 to Real Madrid then lost 1-3, for a total 2-3 on aggregate. Milan won and then lost to Borussia Dortmund, 1-1 aggregate, and won Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 to place first in the group again. Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan won the semi-final against Italian rivals Inter on away goals, with one goal each. And then the Final was against another Italian rival, Juventus, where the scoreless game ended with Milan winning on penalties at Old Trafford in Manchester. Of particular note, Paolo Maldini lifted the trophy 50 years after his father had for the same club. Abbiati and Ambrosini would also remember this well, as they were both there that night, the only two players left from that squad.

The 2007 final would be a rematch of the night that Paolo Maldini has said was the biggest failure of his career. That night, against Liverpool in the final in 2005, was when Milan gave up a 3 goal lead to draw and go to penalties, which saw Liverpool snatch the title from them. This campaign instead saw Milan begin in the 3rd qualifying round following the bipolar summer which saw Italy win the World Cup, but be brought to its knees by Calciopoli. They won both legs of the qualifying round vs. Red Star Belgrade to proceed to the group stage. They won group H with 10 points, a record of 3 wins, 1 draw, and 2 losses in a group which also included French side Lille, Greece’s AEK Athens, and Belgium’s Anderlecht. From there, they faced Celtic in the knockout round, where a goal in extra time at home saw Milan through. Then it was a draw at home and a win away vs. Bayern Munich that gave them the 4-2 aggregate to advance in the Quarterfinals. The semifinals saw them meet with Manchester United, where a 3-2 loss away and a 3-0 win at home gave them the 5-3 aggregate score to meet Liverpool once again in the final. Played in Athens, this rematch of 2005 just had to go better, and it did. With a brace by Pippo Inzaghi that made a believer of many, Milan won 2-1 to see Paolo Maldini lift another Champions League trophy under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti again.

Iconic imagery for an iconic team

Maybe this is all just boring results and history to you, but Milan’s history and the history of the Champions League and European Cup are intertwined for a reason. It’s not just in our DNA, it’s in our souls. Milan were made for the Champions League. And I hope that on Wednesday, at home in the San Siro, the hearts and souls of Milan players and fans past and present help our fledgling boys rise to the occasion and represent the red and black like true champions. Con il Milan nel cuore, Nel profondo dell’anima…


This post inspired by the music of Inno Milan


Our next match is
Champions League Round of 16
AC Milan vs. Barcelona
Wednesday, February 20 • 20:45 CET (2:45 pm EST)


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