Maybe it was the high of victory or maybe it was the mid-Noughties nightclub playlist thumping out of the speakers inside the King Fahd international Stadium in Riyadh, but Edin Dzeko was feeling young again. “Your birthday is coming up,” said his Mediaset interviewer. “How old are you going to be?”
“I’m turning 22,” replied Dzeko with a laugh, and on a night such as Wednesday’s you almost wanted to believe him. He had beaten a player of that age, Sandro Tonali, on the way to scoring the second goal of Internazionale’s 3-0 Supercoppa win over Milan, dropping his shoulder as he cut inside to finish ruthlessly across goal.
How many 22-year-olds, though, would have had the wisdom to play the first-time pass Dzeko used to unlock the defence for the opener? Receiving the ball from Matteo Darmian in the right channel, he immediately sent it beyond the defence and into the stride of Nicolò Barella, who crossed for Federico Dimarco to score.
The Bosnian turns 37 in March, though in Italy some are starting to suspect him of being a real-life Benjamin Button. Dzeko has scored seven goals in Serie A this season, and another three in the Champions League, as well as setting up a handful more.
He was an obvious choice in the fan vote for man of the match on Wednesday, an honour that earned him a special card in Fifa 23’s Ultimate Team mode but not the rights to the ball that he scored with. After each goal, match balls were removed and placed in display cases ready to be sold to the highest bidder in auctions using the clubs’ cryptocurrency fan reward schemes.
The motivation to exploit every possible revenue stream from this event is nothing new – there is a reason it has been hosted in eight cities, spread across four countries, in the past 11 years – but it felt especially vivid this time around. The empty seats in the stands contrasted sharply with the emotions on the pitch.
This is the least of the competitions these teams entered this season, but the Supercoppa is still a trophy to take home and the derby is always the derby. Inter had not forgotten the sting of watching their rivals take the Serie A title off them in May. Moreover, they had not forgotten how it was celebrated.
Four Milan players were fined by the Italian Football Federation for their actions during the team’s open-top bus celebrations, leading chants, holding up banners or, in Tonali’s case, wearing a T-shirt, with offensive phrases about Inter. Dzeko was one of several who made clear he had not forgotten. “When you win something, you need to celebrate. But you can respect the opponent as well.”
Hakan Calhanoglu, having moved from Milan to Inter in the summer of 2021, was subjected to additional abuse last spring. He was stung by the behaviour of former teammates he considered friends. “I always prefer to stay quiet, but it was really heavy for me seeing things that I hadn’t expected,” he said after collecting his medal. “Karma comes around. We were hungry today … we devoured them.”
It was an apt description of Inter’s performance, pouncing on Milan and swallowing them up before they had the chance to make this a game. Dimarco’s goal arrived in the 10th minute, Dzeko’s in the 21st.
Rafael Leão carved out a half chance for Milan at 1-0 and another just after the break, but that was about all they could manage. Lautaro Martínez completed the scoring for Inter, shedding Fikayo Tomori with embarrassing ease before finishing with the outside of his boot.
Inter were the best versions of themselves under Simone Inzaghi: direct, explosive, merciless in the moments that mattered. Milan looked like a side that have forgotten all the qualities that brought them last season’s title.
They have won once in five matches since the World Cup break, drawing with Roma and Lecce either side of a Coppa Italia defeat to Torino. The fear for them is that this defeat will reinforce such negativity for another big game, away to Lazio on Tuesday.
Inter will hope victory can reinvigorate their title bid. They are 10 points behind the league leaders, Napoli, whom they beat at the start of this year only to chuck away most of what they had gained by drawing with Monza three days later.
On Wednesday, though, they just wanted to enjoy the moment. Each player had their own story of what this win meant. Dimarco, a lifelong Inter fan, grew up with dreams of scoring against Milan in a final. Martínez, a month removed from becoming a world champion, is establishing a winning habit.
So, too, is Inzaghi. This was his third trophy in two years at Inter, building on last season’s Supercoppa and the Coppa Italia. He has built a reputation as a cup specialist in Italy, leading Lazio to victory in this game twice as well as a Coppa Italia triumph of their own. Inter’s elimination of Barcelona from the Champions League this season further reinforced those credentials.
Whether he can build from here to claim bigger prizes will depend on many factors – his ability to get more consistent performances against lesser sides, the return of Romelu Lukaku and a tightening up of the defence to name a few. But having Dzeko in this sort of form can only help.
The striker’s experience and cool-headedness in big games is becoming a factor for Inter, just as Olivier Giroud’s did for Milan last season. It was Dzeko who scored the winner against Napoli this month and he was asked after that game how long he saw himself staying at Inter. “As long as I can make the difference,” came the reply.
He did exactly that in Riyadh.