Whoever they meet in the Ataturk on 10 June is going to have to fight to lift that trophy. That was one of the grand lessons of this historic 3-0 aggregate win over their great rivals in AC Milan. Such a scoreline may have made it look easy but it came from a combativeness and willingness to rise to the occasion. That’s maybe essential, since Inter are in some way a team drastically rising above where they are as a club right now.
A defiance runs through the side: against their league position; against their financial situation; against their profile; against age - even against reputation. It was symbolic that it was Lauturo Martinez who got the clinching goal to make it 1-0 here, given how criticised he’d been for performances in the 2022 World Cup.
As in Qatar, though, he refused to give in. So did his team. There is a persistence and battle resilience about Simone Inzaghi’s side that has shades of Jose Mourinho’s in 2010.
Only shades, though, since this doesn’t have the quantity of players in that final prime season of their careers. It does have a lot of good individuals that can lift it, though.
It is why they eliminated Milan here and why pose more of a threat to either Real Madrid or Manchester City. The invitation is obviously to conclude that the eventual winners will come out of that other semi-final but that could be an even greater mistake than the passiveness Milan displayed here.
Inter have a fine goalkeeper in Andre Onana. They have two top-class defenders in Alessandro Bastoni and Milan Skriniar, the latter of whom again didn’t play. They have proper midfield industry in Nicolo Barella and Federico Dimarco. They also have a wide enough array of big-name attackers to give any opposition side a variety of problems.
Edin Dzeko was again seemingly everywhere without actually moving that much. Romelu Lukaku came on to again show he has returned to previous levels. Martinez meanwhile did what happens so often in football in offering some personal redemption, while perhaps setting up something greater.
They then have a manager in Simone Inzaghi who is capable of the right gameplan and right motivation for seemingly any occasion.
Inter are really the ultimate cup team, now going to the ultimate stage.
It created another European occasion that was only to be experienced. The noise was already deafening before it became one of those defining nights for this old ground. The famous red girders shook along with everything else, first to greet the teams, then when Martinez forced the ball past the otherwise impermeable Mike Maignon, finally in the glorious moment of victory.
Javier Zanetti celebrated wildly on the pitch with everyone else, his hair still unruffled by all the embraces.
Milan, so meekly trying to go about their processes, just never looked like forcing it. They even had Maignon to thank for keeping them in it for that much longer. This is why he is now being described as one of the best goalkeepers in the world - and perhaps even Milan’s most important player beyond Rafael Leao.
The return of the forward did nevertheless give Stefano Pioli a bit his team had been badly missing in the first leg. That was never more obvious than when he totally undid Francesco Acerbi with his footwork, only for the remaining gap to full fitness to become apparent with a shot that went just wide.
It was still a piece of individual brilliance, with the profiles reversed as Inter instead offered some flowing collective moves. It was one of those that brought a first brilliant save from Maignan. Dzeko showed his everlasting class with a touch inside then a fine pass to Dumfries. He cut back for Nicolo Barella, only for the goalkeeper to stay firm. Maignan surpassed himself minutes later.
Dzeko was seemingly everywhere for a veteran who had to conserve his movements, and his thunderous header forced Maignan into acrobatics.
Maignan couldn’t keep managing to keep Inter out, though. Martinez eventually found a way, the ball fittingly squirming under the goalkeeper’s body.
It fits how Inter have made their way to Istanbul.