Walter Samuel’s header after just three minutes meant Internazionale edged a nervy Milan derby 1-0 against rivals AC Milan, despite Inter losing Yuto Nagatomo to a red card early in the second half.
Nagatomo was given his marching orders for a handball which earned him his second yellow card of the night, but in the remaining 42 minutes Inter refused to break and stoically shut Milan out.
The Rossoneri seemed bereft of ideas at times, resorting to well-taken but unlikely long shots from Riccardo Montolivo and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
It was AC old boy Antonio Cassano who won the free kick leading to the game’s decisive early goal with some wonderful trickery on the left wing.
Esteban Cambiasso delivered an out-swinging ball towards goalkeeper Christian Abbiati’s far post. AC’s vice-captain flapped at it leaving Samuel a free sight of goal, and the centre back aimed well to get the blue half of the San Siro singing.
Milan manager Massimo Allegri was fuming at referee Paolo Valeri for allowing the free kick in the first place and his team took their time to recover from the early blow, Abbiati longer than most.
The goalkeeper passed a goal kick straight to the feet of Diego Milito two minutes after conceding but the Argentine laboured with his shot and Philippe Mexes, playing in his first Milan derby, recovered for his team.
That was as good as it got for Inter in the first half though as Milan slowly asserted themselves. Boateng and El Shaarawy both had great chances to equalise but could not find their shooting boots at the crucial moment.
The game’s fine balance at half-time was upset by Nagatomo's early bath. The Japanese player didn’t know too much about his handball but Valeri was in no mood to let him off.
From there Milan were continually on top but it was not until Robinho came on for Mattia de Sciglio that they started to create more than long shots.
The Brazilian, who has only scored once in the last nine games, was a livewire of inventiveness but his efforts never yielded the goal they deserved and as Inter sensed they might hold on, they started to create their own chances.
Inter skipper Javier Zanetti put in Rodrigo Palacio for a one-on-one with Abbiati but he shot too close to the keeper.
Milan had one of their best chances in extra-time when Mario Yepes threaded the ball through for Robinho but he was adjudged offside and Inter knew they were home and dry after that.
Man of the Match
Javier Zanetti: Zanetti throwing himself sideways to get in front of shots was the main reason for Inter's clean sheet, yet he still found the time to set up his team's best chance of the second half, with a perfect pass for Rodrigo Palacio.
AC MILAN: Abbiati 5, Bonera 7, Yepes 6, Mexes 6, De Sciglio 5, De Jong 5, Montolivo 7, Emanuelson 7, Boateng 8, El Shaarawy 6, Bojan 6 - subs – Robinho 7, Pazzini 6, Abate 6
INTERNAZIONALE: Handanovic 7, Ranocchia 6, Samuel 7, Jesus 6, Nagatomo 4, Gargano 5, Cambiasso 8, Zanetti 8, Coutinho 6, Milito 6, Cassano 6 - subs – Pereira 5, Guarin 6, Palacio 6
- AC Milan