As strange as it seems these days, as recently as 10 years ago Italy's elite clubs were European superpowers and regularly featured in the latter stages of the Champions League. The rivalry between the top three clubs in Italy was one that was played out on Europe's biggest stage, as well as domestically in the Serie A. The culmination of this was the first all Italian Champions League final in 2003. Juventus were Serie A champions that season and Milan, having already dispatched with Inter in the semi-finals of the competition, were out to stop them from completing a league and cup double.
This particular final signalled the beginning of a fantastic cycle of success in Europe for the Rossoneri under the stewardship of club legend Carlo Ancelotti. The club would go on to reach 3 European cup finals in 5 years, winning 2 of them including this one. For many people the team that lined-up for this match was the best of its era and with big names like Andriy Shevchenko, Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo in the side, it's not hard to see why. Many Milanisti would give an arm and a leg for players of that calibre now, although the future is looking considerably brighter for the current team at long last.
In contrast to classic Champions League finals like Milan's 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona's so called "dream team" in 1994, this match was perhaps unsurprisingly a tighter, more tactical affair. Despite the lack of goals, the quality of this Milan team was on full display right from the off. A high octane start saw possession change hands plenty of times and goalscoring opportunities at either end. Shevchenko thought he'd put Milan ahead when he fired low and hard from the edge of the box, beating Gianluigi Buffon. The goal was ruled out though as Rui Costa was deemed to have obstructed Buffon's view.
Gradually the game slowed down and the quality of both sides defences shone through. Despite this, Milan had the best opportunity to put the game to bed with Pippo Inzaghi's diving header, only for him to be denied at point blank range by Buffon. Antonio Conte hit the bar for Juventus late on as well. Ultimately though, neither side was able to find a breakthrough with the match still at 0-0 come full time. This continued into extra time and ultimately it came down to a penalty shoot out between the two. Both Dida and Buffon turned in heroic performances for their sides in the shoot-out as they saved 5 penalties between them. It was Milan who had the last laugh however as Andriy Shevchenko, taking one of his trademark long run ups slotted away the winning penalty to earn Milan a well deserved sixth European cup.
Whilst the Coppa Italia is hardly the Champions League and the gap between the two clubs is much greater than it was back then, if Milan can win the final in a few months time then historic nights like this one would seem a lot less distant to supporters of the Rossoneri. Champions League finals are sadly, a long way off still. However, Milan are closer to a European return than they have been in some time and beating Juventus in order to get it would be all the sweeter.