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San Siro Stadium

San Siro: Italy’s Cathedral of Soccer

San Siro Stadium
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"San Siro: Italy's Cathedral of Soccer"
Caption: San Siro Stadium
Image by: Alessandro Mogliani

Since its opening in September 1926, San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy has been a cathedral of football. Numerous matches in different tournaments yielded memorable and historic moments, resulting in not one, but two famous Italian clubs to call the venue its home stadium. The 87 years have seen two World Cup, three UEFA Champions League finals, numerous European matches for Inter Milan and AC Milan, and even its first ever rugby match in 2009.

Three matches were held at San Siro during the 1934 World Cup. The first match, played on May 27, featured World Cup debuts for Switzerland and the Netherlands. Early in the match, Leopold Kielholz became Switzerland’s first ever goal scorer (and would add a second goal later), while Andre Abegglen put Switzerland ahead 3-1. Known as “Kick,” Johannes Smit tied the match for the Netherlands at 1-1, Trailing 3-1, the Netherlands pulled one back, as “Leen” Vente scored, but Switzerland advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-2 victory.

Four days later, Germany and Sweden met in the quarterfinals, both impressive in their Round of 16 matches. Scoring was at a premium, and the game was not decided until midway through the second half. Two goals from Karl Hohmann in four minutes had Germany on course for a semifinal berth, but not before Gösta Dunker halved the deficit for Sweden. But Germany held on to win 2-1 to reach the semifinals.

The thing match was a semifinal between Italy and Austria. Italy made light work of the United States, while also surviving against Spain in a playoff. Austria, however, had arguably its greatest team in their history. Led by Matthias Sindelar and Josef “Pepi” Bican, Austria’s Wunderteam notched impressive victories, including a 4-2 victory on Feb. 12, 1934. But in the semifinals, Italy stifled an Austrian offense that had scored 41 goals since 1933, halting Karl Zischek (the player who scored a hat trick against Italy in Turin). Italy’s only goal came from Argentine-born Enrique Guaita, whose goal in the 19th minute proved enough to send Italy to the World Cup final.

San Siro hosted three games at Euro 1980, with two games ending in draws: a scoreless stalemate between Spain and Italy on June 12 and a 1-1 draw between the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia on June 17, the latter putting Czechoslovakia to the third place match against Italy. The other match featured one of the first major upsets ever in the European Championships. Prior to Euro 1980, Belgium had only won two games at major tournaments. With manager Guy Thys leading a new generation of stars, such as Jean-Marie Pfaff, Jan Ceulemans and Rene Vandereycken, Belgium was the dark horse of the tournament, and on June 15, goals from Eric Gerets and its captain Julien Cools helped Belgium, with the 2-1 victory, defeat Spain for the first time in over 11 years. 

Ten years later, San Siro hosted six matches at the 1990 World Cup. For West Germany, eventual winners of the tournament, San Siro was home away from home, as they played five matches at the stadium: three group stage matches, a Round of 16 and quarterfinal matches, outscoring its five opponents 13-4. None of West Germany’s matches at the stadium was as notable and hotly contested as its Round of 16 meeting against the Netherlands, a match West Germany won 2-1. Not only was it a bitter rivalry that had escalated during the game, but these nations had also met in World Cup qualifying. More intriguing was the fact that West Germany had three Inter Milan players; the Netherlands had three AC Milan players.

The only match at San Siro that did not feature West Germany saw an historic upset – for the second time in eight years, reigning champions Argentina lost its opening game again. This time, Cameroon stunned everyone in a match that featured a tale of two stories for two brothers from Cameroon. After a scoreless first half, Cameroon would go down to 10 men in the second half, when Andre Kana-Biyik was shown a red card. Six minutes later, Fancois Omam-Biyik scored to put Cameroon ahead, and despite a second sending off from Benjamin Massing, Cameroon hung on for an historic 1-0 upset against Argentina, jumpstarting its surprising run to the quarterfinals of the tournament.

In addition to international competitions, San Siro hosted numerous European competitions, not to mention European Cup finals, in 1965, 1970 and 2001. The 1965 final would see host Inter Milan successfully defend its European Cup with a 1-0 victory over Benfica, with Jair scoring the only goal of the game. Five years later, Feyenoord Rotterdam became the first Dutch club to win the European Cup, when Swedish-born Ove Kindall’s seventh goal of the tournament came in the 117th minute in the final against Celtic, as Feyenoord won 2-1 after extra time.

Thirty-one years later, the 2001 Champions League Final featured the previous two runners-up of the tournament, Bayern Munich and Valencia. Penalties decided the game in regulation and after extra time, as Gaizka Mendieta scored his penalty three minutes into the game, while Stefan Effenberg scored his penalty six minutes into the second half. Fittingly, a penalty shootout would decide the winner, and both Mendieta and Effenberg converted their attempts, but the shootout went into the seventh round. After Thomas Linke scored for Bayern Munich, Oliver Kahn stopped Mauricio Pelligrino’s attempt to give the German club its first trophy in 25 years.

In 2003, rivals AC Milan and Inter Milan played in the Champions League semifinals, and the two-legged result was a real oddity. AC Milan became the first club to win a two-legged series by virtue of away goals, despite not scoring away from their home stadium. That happened because AC Milan drew 1-1 with Inter Milan in the two legs, but AC Milan scored their goal in the second leg, where it were designated as the away team. Less than two years later, the two clubs met again in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but AC Milan’s 3-0 aggregate victory was marred by an ugly incident in the second leg, when AC Milan’s goalkeeper Dida was struck in the face with a bottle by unruly fans. Inter Milan, as the home team in the second leg again, for its punishment, played four games behind closed doors in next season’s Champions League. 

Inter Milan’s first signature victory in the Champions League came on Nov. 25, 1998. Roberto Baggio came on as a substitute for Ivan Zamorano, who had scored Inter’s first goal, in the 68th minutes. Late in the match, Baggio scored twice in a span of four minutes as Inter Milan won 3-1, finishing one point ahead of Real Madrid in its group. Eleven years later, Inter Milan’s first game in the Champions League was at home, where they held reigning champions Barcelona to a scoreless draw. Just over seven months later, the same teams met in the semifinals, with the first leg at San Siro. There, Inter Milan overcame an early 1-0 deficit to win 3-1, ultimately knocking out Barcelona and winning the Champions League. Six months later, during its defense of the Champions League, Inter Milan cruised early to a 4-0 lead after 35 minutes against Tottenham Hotspur, but Gareth Bale made it a game when he scored a hat trick. Inter Milan ultimately won the match 4-3.

AC Milan’s signature victories at home came during title-winning runs in 2003 and 2007. Before face Inter Milan in the semifinals in 2003, AC Milan was on the verge of elimination due to away goals. But a stoppage time goal from Jon Dahl Tomasson save AC Milan’s season, as they defeated Ajax Amsterdam 3-2. In 2007, AC Milan limped into the Round of 16 despite winning its group, but an extra time goal from Kaka helped eliminate Celtic in the Round of 16. Less than two months later, AC Milan overturned a 3-2 first leg loss against Manchester United and reached the final  with a 3-0 victory.

As memorable as these games were for AC Milan and Inter Milan (not to mention the countless matches in Serie A over the years), other European clubs have managed to make history at San Siro, no matter the odds.

Nov. 25, 2003 remains Inter Milan’s worst day ever in Europe, when it lost 5-1 to Arsenal, a result that remains the club’s worst defeat ever in European competition.

Dec. 9, 2003 saw joy for a Champions League debutante: Spain’s Celta de Vigo qualified for the Round of 16 at its first attempt by winning at AC Milan 2-1.

On Dec. 17, 2008, Wolfsburg, an up and coming German club, finsihed atop its group, when it came back twice at AC Milan to draw 2-2 in the UEFA Cup. Two months later, AC Milan, heavy favorites to win the UEFA Cup, had another 2-2 draw against a German team: that result, however, saw Werder Bremen eliminate AC Milan on away goals. 

En route to reaching the 2008-09 UEFA Cup, AC Milan defeated FC Zürich 3-1 victory over Switzerland’s FC Zürich. Just over a year later, on Sept. 30, 2009 the teams met again, but this time in the UEFA Champions League group stage. FC Zürich turned the tables at San Siro, thanks to an early goal from Hannu Tihinen, as FC Zürich won 1-0.

Inter Milan’s first leg with Schalke on Apr. 5, 2011 started so well: Dejan Stankovic scored 25 seconds into the game. By the 75th minute, Schalke had put Inter Milan on the brink of elimination with a 5-2 victory.

Three weeks after replacing Fenerbahce in the Champions League due to a  match fixing scandal, Trabzonspor, who were eliminated from the tournament a month prior, opened its campaign at San Siro to face Inter Milan on Sept. 14, 2011. Thanks to a goal from Ondrej Celustka in the 72nd minute, Trabzonspor upset Inter Milan 1-0. 

Neftci Baku made history in 2012 by becoming the first club from Azerbaijan to play in the group stage of a UEFA competition. Although it could not advance, Neftci still departed from the tournament with a respectable 2-2 draw at Inter Milan on Dec. 6, 2012.

Nearly a century worth of games and competition have been contested at San Siro. One thing that always stands out in this venue is that history is always being made.


More about this author: Antonio Martinez