Evergreen Edin Dzeko can still be counted on! Winners and losers as Inter's veterans punish Rafael Leao-less AC Milan in Champions League semi-final

Edin Dzeko Inter Champions League 2022-23 HIC 16:9
The Bosnian broke the deadlock after just eight minutes with a terrific volley before fellow golden oldie Henrikh Mkhitaryan struck in a 2-0 win

Age really is just a number as far as Edin Dzeko is concerned. At 37 years old, he might just be about to play in his first Champions League final, with the Bosnian having netted a brilliant opener in Inter's 2-0 win over AC Milan in the first leg of their last-four showdown at San Siro on Wednesday night.

On a great night for the game's golden oldies, the 34-year-old Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the Nerazzurri's advantage in the 11th minute, as the 'visitors' stunned their city rivals with the fastest of starts.

Indeed, Milan didn't manage a single shot in the opening 25 minutes - Inter had already racked up seven by that point - and, in truth, never looked turning the game around, despite seeing Sandro Tonali strike the post in the second half.

As a result, Inter are now perfectly placed to make amends for their two previous Champions League derby defeats to Milan, in 2003 and 2005, by booking their place in next month's final in Istanbul against either Manchester City or Real Madrid.

Below, GOAL runs through the winners and losers on an incredible night for Nerazzurri supporters...

  1. WINNER: Edin Dzeko

    WINNER: Edin Dzeko

    Immediately after the full-time whistle, Dzeko was asked when he's signing a new contract with Inter. "You have to ask the club," he said with a smile in his post-match interview with Amazon Prime Video. "It depends on them."

    On the evidence of what we saw at San Siro on Wednesday night, Inter need to sign him up as soon as possible, because the veteran striker is showing no signs of slowing down. He's now just the seventh player in history to score 20 Champions League goals after turning 30, while he's the second-oldest to ever score in a semi-final.

    Dzeko's never relied on blistering pace, of course. His game has always been about a mix of physique and technique - as his goal so perfectly illustrated.

    Quite why Davide Calabria was charged with picking up Dzeko at a corner is anyone's guess. It was, as Alessandro Nesta said on Amazon, "a complete mismatch", with the Bosnian easily holding off the Milan captain before almost effortlessly guiding a fantastic volley into the top corner of the net.

    Dzeko could - and perhaps should - have added a second goal shortly after half-time but when he exited, he did so to a fully deserved standing ovation from the 'visiting' supporters on the Curva Nord, who will no doubt be hoping that confirmation of that contract extension arrives sooner rather than later.

    After his 14th - and most important - goal of the season so far, Dzeko definitely deserves one.

  2. LOSER: Milan's attacking options

    LOSER: Milan's attacking options

    Stefano Pioli waited for as long as possible to see if Rafael Leao would be fit enough to feature at San Siro, which was wholly understandable. The Portuguese winger is, by some distance, Milan's most talented attacker. The Rossoneri simply aren't the same side without a player who has previously provoked comparisons with Thierry Henry and Ruud Gullit on account of his tremendous turn of pace.

    So, his injury-enforced absence came as a massive blow, even if it had been expected, given Leao hobbled off just 10 minutes into last weekend's win over Lazio with a minor muscular problem.

    The hope was that Milan could make do without their talisman, just as they had done on Saturday, beating the second-placed Biancocelesti to boost their hopes of a top-four finish in Serie A.

    However, the Rossoneri were already reeling when Ismael Bennacer was forced off with a knee problem after only 17 minutes of the derby. The Algerian, who has been operating as a kind of defensive-attacking midfielder, has been one of Milan's best players of late, even netting the crucial winner in the first-leg win over Napoli in the previous round.

    The exact nature - and full extent - of his injury has yet to be determined but Pioli will be praying that Bennacer recovers in time for the second leg, particularly as there is no guarantee that Leao will be close to 100 per cent by next Tuesday.

    As this loss so painfully underlined, Milan are not a squad blessed with a vast array of attacking options. Junior Messias is not good enough for this level, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is always injured, Divock Origi has been a disaster and Charles De Ketelaere a colossal waste of money.

    So, if you take a couple of key men out of this side, they are always going to struggle to score.

  3. WINNER: Beppe Marotta

    WINNER: Beppe Marotta

    Beppe Marotta appeared on Amazon before the game and admitted that while Inter's Champions League run wouldn't resolve all of the club's financial problems, it would go some way towards ensuring that more money is available to strengthen the squad this summer.

    It's not as if Marotta will need much to work with, though. He may have made the odd mistake over the years but Marotta's mastery of the market has long been the stuff of legend. He made one fantastic free transfer after another at Juventus, and is now doing likewise at Inter. Indeed, Inter's opening two goals were both scored by players who arrived at Inter from Roma for nothing.

    The Nerazzurri could yet be forced to sell at least one of their stars at the end of the season to help balance the books, which is a disconcerting situation for the supporters. But they should thank their lucky stars that they have Marotta managing the situation. No other director in football has a better eye for a bargain buy.

  4. WINNER: Federico Dimarco

    WINNER: Federico Dimarco

    It's hard to imagine any Inter player enjoyed this derby more than the Federico Dimarco, who was born and bred in Milan. The 25-year-old was in the stands at San Siro when Inter lost out on away goals to their city rivals in 2003, so, as he pointed out on the eve of the game, he didn't exactly have "wonderful memories" of the last time these two teams met in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

    It's fair to say he's remember this particular game with far more fondness, having set up Inter's second goal with a brilliant break down the left-hand side. Dimarco is arguably Inter's most improved player this season, having emerged as an excellent attacking wing-back, as underlined by the fact that no player has more assists in this season's Champions League (five).

  5. LOSER: Milan's stunned supporters

    Milan fans couldn't have done any more to turn a stadium shared by these two clubs into the most hostile of environments for Inter. "Hell is empty, all the devils are here!" read a banner unveiled shortly before kick-off, as bombs exploded inside and outside San Siro.

    When the Champions League anthem drew to a close, the noise was deafening. And yet Milan sleep-walked their way through the opening quarter of the game. Indeed, they could have been 3-0 down by the 15th minute, with Hakan Calhanoglu striking the post with a swerving shot from distance.

    All is not lost, of course. Home advantage is not quite as consequential in this particular fixture, and even less so in the current context, given away goals are no longer a thing in the Champions League.

    However, it's impossible to shake the feeling that Milan are set to pay a heavy price for failing to make the most of raucous support. They have now lost three derbies in a row and have it all to do next week at a San Siro that will be packed with Interisti. The return leg really could be hell for the devils in the away end.

  6. WINNER: Simone Inzaghi

    WINNER: Simone Inzaghi

    Inzaghi had stated beforehand that this wasn't just a derby, it was the derby - and the Inter coach made some massive calls for the biggest game of his career. To his enormous credit, he got them all right.

    For starters, there would have been a huge temptation to play Romelu Lukaku alongside Lautaro, given the pair's excellent rapport on and off the pitch, and the big Belgian's recent revival. However, Inzaghi went with Dzeko, who was excellent in last week's 6-0 rout of Verona, and the veteran Bosnian vindicated his inclusion by netting the crucial opening goal.

    The manager also got his midfield make-up spot on. Marcelo Brozovic has long been the man that makes Inter tick but his form has fluctuated this season, so Inzaghi selected former Milan No.10 Hakan in the holding role, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan just to his left.

    Again, they proved inspired choices, with dead-ball specialist Hakan providing the corner from which Dzeko broke the deadlock, before Mkhitaryan doubled Inter's advantage. Despite lifting the Supercoppa Italiana, with a 3-0 rout of Milan, and leading Inter into this month's Coppa Italia final, Inzaghi has copped plenty of flak this season, primarily because of their infuriatingly inconsistent league form.

    There is actually no guarantee that he will still be at San Siro next season - Inzaghi is also said to be unhappy with how he has been treated - but if he manages to get Inter to Istanbul, he will definitely depart with his head held high, and his reputation restored.