There was Marco Materazzi and there was Rui Costa. both strength and beauty. The graceful Portuguese man bearing the elbow of his aged rival.
A pair of football opponents halted to contemplate a hazy wall of crimson smoke and simmering flares in the midst of the turmoil.
“Everyone was focused on the flares, on the smoke,” photographer Stefano Rellandini, who took that famous picture 18 years ago, tells BBC Sport. But I noticed a specific moment close to the pitch’s center.
Since Materazzi is not exactly a nice player, he was given a moniker that sounds like a butcher. Contrarily, Rui Costa was kinder and more creative in his approach to the game. Materazzi placed his elbow on Rui Costa’s shoulder for a period of time.
“So I shot it when I saw it. In that series, I only have one frame. The time was then.
The image has its own legacy, but it also captures the conclusion of the most recent Champions League match between AC Milan and Inter Milan, a 2005 quarterfinal that was called off after a group of Inter fans rained down flares and other objects on the San Siro field, one of which hit Milan goalkeeper Dida and injured him.
What to watch for in the Champions League semifinal between Milan and Inter
Which 2005 AC Milan and Inter teams can you name?
What will San Siro be in the future, “a problematic relic”?
The match was called off after 73 minutes of the second leg, and Milan, who was ahead 3-0 overall, was given the tie.
As Rellandini, who was working for Reuters at the time, recalls, “the atmosphere that night was like every time you have an AC Milan and Inter derby at the San Siro,”
It is always powerful. Even if you’re not a player, you can sense the intensity of the fights because of the massive and amazing fan choreography.
“When you go onto the field, it’s obvious that this is more than simply a soccer game. It is more than that.
“The players are quite near to you. There was excitement; the environment was pleasant.
“It all just blew up when they overturned Esteban Cambiasso’s goal. That made the situation entirely different.
“The Inter Milan fans were in a panic. For around 15 or 20 minutes, they continued to toss down things and flares. It resembled a war in several ways.
brief grey presentation line
There had been growing tension. Despite both semifinal matches ended in draws at the San Siro, Milan had eliminated Inter from the competition two years prior on away goals. Milan went on to defeat Juventus in the Old Trafford championship game by penalties.
Milan entered the 2004–05 season as the reigning champions of Italy, earning their sixth Scudetto since Inter last won the Serie A championship in 1988–89.
Silvio Berlusconi, the owner of Milan, was constructing his second truly great club and the businessman-turned-politician trusted Carlo Ancelotti, a player on the squad that won consecutive European Cups in 1989 and 1990, to lead Milan to further success in his capacity as manager.
Behind Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Massimo Ambrosini, and Kaka for the second leg of the quarterfinal, a strong back four of Cafu, Jaap Stam, Alessandro Nesta, and Paolo Maldini sat, with Hernan Crespo and Andriy Shevchenko up front. On the bench was Rui Costa.
Meanwhile, Inter had made costly purchases in an effort to rival Juventus and Milan. Massimo Moratti, the chairman, twice shattered the transfer world record in a span of three years: in 1997, when he acquired Cristiano Ronaldo from Barcelona, and in 1999, when he acquired Christian Vieri from Lazio.
Before reuniting at Milan, Crespo and Seedorf had signed large contracts to join Inter, but they had not won any notable awards while there.
Fabio Cannavaro has also been and gone, with a two-year stint that ended in failure and a transfer to Juventus.
By 2005, the Inter midfield was centered around the Argentina duo of Cambiasso and Juan Sebastian Veron, while up front, the young Brazilian forward Adriano was having his most productive season donning the black and blue.
The group was getting better. The outcomes were not.
Rival supporters derided Inter as the “August champions,” mocking the hopes that had been raised during the summer transfer window but had inevitably faded by the time the May championship was on the line.
The perception among Inter supporters was that Milan and Juventus, who had won 11 of the previous 13 titles between them, were running an unfair competition.
However, both would be connected to the Calciopoli affair in 2006. In contrast, Juventus lost two titles and was demoted to Serie B. Points were deducted from Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, and Reggina.
Rumors started circulating in the stands in 2005. Over allegations of bribery and corruption in football, there were already active criminal investigations in Naples and Turin.
As the game started to go against Inter, their fans’ annoyance with the result and their inability to catch up to Milan and Juventus squads, who always seemed to be one step ahead, spilled out onto the field.
Milan enjoyed a two-goal lead in the opening leg thanks to goals from Stam and Shevchenko.
Andriy Shevchenko of AC Milan celebrates his goal against Inter Milan during the first leg of the quarterfinal Champions League match in 2005.
Andriy Shevchenko scored 17 goals in Serie A to conclude the regular season.
However, Inter’s supporters were still upbeat and confident of a comeback going into their “home” leg at the San Siro.
The ‘Derby della Madonnina’ matches were considered the “worst” days of Milan great Alessandro Costacurta’s career. He entered the match as a substitute in the first leg.
He had trouble sleeping. “It was the turmoil of emotions,” he claimed. “The tension” was to blame. Maldini, a teammate, spoke of a “electricity” sweeping the city.
Shevchenko added that he had trouble falling asleep and recalled seeing more team colors displayed all throughout the city as the games drew nearer.
“There was great tension, great anticipation, but above all passion, and always with civil attitudes,” the former Ukraine forward recently told Gazzetta dello Sport.
Half an hour into a tense second leg, Milan’s number seven, Shevchenko, beat Francesco Toldo with a left-footed shot from outside the box to give Milan the lead. Inter was incensed, and its supporters thought they should have been awarded a penalty, especially after the attacker escaped punishment after seeming to headbutt Materazzi early on.
However, there was a real flashpoint with less than 20 seconds left.
The goal appeared to score it 3-1 on aggregate when Inter midfielder Cambiasso’s bald head connected with Veron’s corner, but it was overturned because striker Julio Cruz was adjudged to have fouled Dida. There didn’t seem to be much touch.
The Curva Nord ultras started to launch flares at the San Siro field, shooting them down like flaming arrows.
As Dida worked to sweep the fireworks and bottles out of his penalty area, one shot grazed his shoulder, just missing his skull.
Maldini, Cambiasso, and Inter captain Javier Zanetti argued with referee Markus Merk as the players congregated in the middle of the field. Then, Zanetti and Veron began assisting the firefighters who were extinguishing the flames by attempting to clear debris from the goalmouth.
In the 2005 Champions League quarterfinal matchup against AC Milan, AC Milan goalie Dida watches as a flare comes his way.
Dida, the goalkeeper for AC Milan, was burned on his shoulder by a flare.
Both teams were eventually ordered off the field as things continued to fall from the stands. They made an effort to find cover as they made their way via a tunnel in the same area of the field as the ultras.
The pitch was entirely obscured by fog after the first few flares lighted up, making it impossible to see. Even if you wanted to take a picture of someone hurt, you couldn’t,” says Rellandini, adding that despite the commotion, he was able to capture his masterpiece.
“They interrupted the game for over 30 minutes, which seemed odd at the time. They actually tossed everything down; they were going crazy, so you start to worry that something awful has happened.
Dida, who had first-degree burns to his shoulder, was replaced by Christian Abbiati when the players came back, but after 30 seconds of the barrage, Merk was forced to call off the match.
Maldini stated, “The referee made the proper call. Although I was shocked by his attempt to restart the game, it was a good thing since so many fans had paid to attend.
Ancelotti denounced the incident and referred to it as a “disgraceful episode,” joining Inter manager Roberto Mancini in doing so.
What transpired, according to Ancelotti, “will discredit not only Inter but the entire city.” “The Inter fans’ response was totally unexpected. In all the Milan derbies I have attended, I have never seen anything like that, so I was very astonished.
The violence was attributed to “two to three hundred hooligans… the usual hotheads from the Inter section,” according to Milan police chief Paolo Scarpi. At the time, Berlusconi, who was also the owner of Milan, claimed “drastic measures” were required to stop the increase in stadium violence.
The regulatory body of European football, Uefa, fined Inter £132,000 and mandated that they play four European matches behind closed doors.
As AC Milan and Inter compete in the 2005 Champions League quarterfinal at the San Siro, Rui Costa and Marco Materazzi observe flares landing on the field.
This expansive view shows Rui Costa and Marco Materazzi in the foreground as Rellandini lines up his iconic shot.
“This is the biggest sanction ever levied by Uefa. Some people may view it as lenient, while others will view it as punitive, a Uefa spokeswoman told the BBC.
After Dida set a Champions League record by keeping seven straight clean sheets in Milan’s 2-0 first-leg victory over PSV Eindhoven, Milan went on to defeat PSV on away goals in the semi-finals. PSV won the second leg 3-1.
If not for a miracle in Istanbul, where Liverpool scored three times in six minutes to win on penalties, Milan would have won its eighth European championship.
Two years later, Milan would exact their revenge by defeating Liverpool in the championship game in Athens, but on a domestic level, their points deduction and Juventus’ relegation allowed Inter to rule Serie A for a while.
Inter won the championship in 2006, followed by four straight victories, which culminated with a Triple in 2009–10 under Jose Mourinho.
Since then, neither Milan team has advanced to the final, but this year, thanks to a semi-final derby that also revived Rellandini’s enduring reputation, that will change.