A giant tifo of what looked like a knight, arrows piercing its shield, was one of the first televised shots of the San Siro on Tuesday. That of Francesco Acerbi, hands raised, followed. When the final whistle signalled a first Champions League final for him, Acerbi, looking spent, fell on his knees. Depression, alcoholism, cancer, he had conquered all and now he was on club football’s biggest stage.
It’s these kinds of matches where you have everything to lose, and so we have to stay even more switched-on than in the first leg,” the Inter Milan central defender had told Sky Sport Italia one day prior to the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against AC Milan, one where Inter began with a 2-0 advantage.
Acerbi walked his talk in Inter’s 1-0 win through Lautaro Martinez’s 74th minute goal; the 3-0 aggregate taking them to their first Champions League final since 2010. Like he had last Wednesday, Acerbi softened up Olivier Giroud early. He also cut out Junior Messias’ delivery aimed at the Frenchman in the 36th. Between them, Milan had their best chance but Brahim Diaz didn’t test Andre Onana hard enough.
Matteo Darmian missing an aerial ball had Rafael Leao speeding towards goal. Inside the penalty area, Acerbi, his arms spread, was beaten for pace but managed to hurry the Milan winger into firing a shot that flew across the goalmouth. Had Leao got a second more, he may have tried what Martinez did successfully: take aim at the near post. That he couldn’t was because of the scruffy Italy defender at the centre of Inter’s back-three.
Milan looked to use Leao and Theo Hernandez’s pace against the 35-year-old Acerbi and Darmian who is 33. It didn’t work because Inter were more cohesive – Edin Dzeko dropping back to help the defence underscored Martinez’s point about the “unity”, the importance of which the Argentine said he understood from a successful World Cup – and because Acerbi didn’t put a foot wrong. Barring a deliberate stamp on Sandro Tonali that is.