MILAN: Loved and loathed in equal measure, Filippo Inzaghi played a pivotal role in steering AC Milan to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
The much-maligned Italy international was the inspiration behind Milan’s quarter-final success on Wednesday when Carlo Ancelotti’s men ousted Ajax to secure a mouth-watering last four meeting with city rivals Inter Milan.
Nicknamed SuperPippo by his adoring fans, Inzaghi scored the opening goal before turning provider for Andriy Shevchenko and Jon Dahl Tomasson, as Milan clinched a dramatic 3-2 second leg victory at the San Siro.
Milan, who went through 3-2 on aggregate after drawing 0-0 in Holland, join Serie A rivals Juventus and Inter in the semi-finals.
It is the first time Italy have had three teams in the last four of Europe’s premier club competition.
Inzaghi, who has earned a reputation for going down easily and being preoccupied with trying to earn penalties and free-kicks, was the outstanding performer on the night, outshining his strike partner Shevchenko.
“This stadium brings out the best in me,” beamed Inzaghi, whose goal took his Champions League tally to 10 for the season.
“The atmosphere was incredible and I am honoured to have played in such a memorable match.
“The fans have had a lot of ups and downs this season and hopefully we can repay them by becoming champions of Europe.
“They have always treated me well and I hope that I have given them something back.”
For one of the most prolific strikers in arguably the world’s toughest league, Inzaghi can’t shoot from any distance. He’s not a great dribbler and his heading ability could be generously described as limited.
However, he can do certain things better than anyone else in Italian football. The blind side run to the edge of the six-yard box, where he scores most of his goals, and beating the off-side trap by a centimetre.
His predatory instincts gave Milan a deserved first-half lead, scoring with a rare close range header from Shevchenko’s right-wing cross.
After second-half substitute Jari Litmanen had levelled the scores for Ajax, Inzaghi set up Shevchenko for Milan’s second goal, eluding two challenges before chipping for the Ukrainian to head home from close range.
Milan appeared to be in control until 12 minutes from time when Steven Pienaar delivered a body blow to the Italians by scoring a second away goal that appeared to have taken the visitors through.
But with time running out, and many home fans streaming for the exits, Inzaghi lobbed Massimo Ambrosini’s flick goalwards and Tomasson made sure from inches out to send the home fans into delirium.
Inzaghi would normally be fighting to claim it, but on this occassion he chose to let it go.
“It was just important that it went in,” he said. It would have been disastrous for the club had we gone out, so I don’t care who scored it.”
Inzaghi’s annoying habits may not make him everybody’s favourite footballer, but his knack of being in the right place at the right time has taken Milan into the semi-finals of Europe’s most prestigious competition. – AFP