AC Milan won bragging rights in the Milan Derby while maintaining their hopes of playing European football next season with a 1-0 Serie A victory over crosstown rivals Inter on Sunday at the San Siro.
Nigel De Jong scored the only goal, heading in Mario Balotelli's cross in the 65th minute as Milan earned revenge for a 1-0 loss to Inter in the season's first Milan Derby.
With the victory, Milan moved onto 54 points, level with Parma and a single point behind sixth-placed Torino, who currently occupy the final UEFA Europa League qualification spot in Serie A.
Despite the loss, Inter remained fifth with 57 points and in line to qualify for the Europa League. But even with European qualification at stake, Sunday's match was largely about bragging rights with both teams finishing off disappointing seasons.
With two matches left in the league campaign, both sides are well out of contention not only for the title but also for Champions League qualification. But with a win over their rivals and a strong finish to the season, Milan might provide themselves with a springboard for success next season.
With such decidedly low stakes, B/R's Karl Matchett argued that the quality of play on the pitch was poor.
Neither team created much in the way of chances early in the match. Milan generated the first decent opening in the 24th minute as Adel Taarabt split Inter's defence with a through ball for Mattia De Sciglio. From a tight angle, De Sciglio directed his shot into the side netting.
Milan's Mario Balotelli shot off target from distance in the 27th minute, and Kaka forced a save from Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic with a low shot one minute later. The best chance yet came nine minutes before half-time, when Kaka hit the crossbar with a dipping volley after running onto a pass from De Jong.
With the match still scoreless at half-time, Milan had a half-chance in the 47th minute as Balotelli saw his shot blocked by Rolando. Inter had a sight of goal two minutes later as Mauro Icardi lifted a shot off target. Then, in the 51st minute, Mateo Kovacic combined with Hernanes before shooting at his teammate Icardi, who inadvertently blocked.
The opening goal finally arrived in the 65th minute as Milan produced a moment of quality. Balotelli provided the assist with a lofted pass from the right, and De Jong powered his header past Handanovic for a 1-0 lead.
Inter had a chance to equalise almost immediately, Hernanes freeing Rodrigo Palacio with a through ball in the 68th minute. But De Jong made a fine block to deny Palacio and keep Milan ahead.
The Rossoneri thought they had doubled their lead in the 77th minute, but Balotelli's long-distance effort was ruled out for offside on Giampaolo Pazzini, who had poked his leg at the ball as it approached the net.
Balotelli then forced a save from Handanovic in the 81st minute as Milan kept pushing for a second goal. That goal never arrived, but thanks to De Jong's strike midway through the second half, Milan had done enough to put one over on their rivals.
|AC Milan Player Ratings|
|Mattia De Sciglio||4||4|
|Nigel De Jong||7||8|
|Sulley Muntari (for Poli, 72')||N/A||6|
|Giampaolo Pazzini (for Kaka, 76')||N/A||6|
|Ignazio Abate (for Constant, 86')||N/A||6|
|Inter Milan Player Ratings|
|Fredy Guarin (for Cambiasso, 70')||N/A||6|
|Ricardo Alvarez (for Jonathan, 78')||N/A||6|
|Diego Milito (for Icardi, 82')||N/A||5|
Match-winner Nigel De Jong dedicated the victory to manager Clarence Seedorf, whose future with the club is in doubt. Speaking to Sky Sport Italia, as cited by Football Italia, De Jong said: "This victory is for him, as people talked too much about his position this week, but he is very important for the squad."
De Jong added, "This game was doubly important. Everyone saw in recent weeks how tough it was for our team, so it was fantastic to win and we must continue along this path for Europe. We have never given up, so we have to carry on and I believe we can get a place in the Europa League."
Milan play at Atalanta next Sunday. Inter host Lazio on Saturday.