Inter Milan had the old place was shaking in its foundations as they stormed into a two-goal lead in the away leg of this local squabble of a semi-final against city rivals AC Milan and unleashed a torrent of emotions inside the San Siro.
As it shook, Milan appeared rattled and set to roll over. Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan lit the fuse with early goals and they might have had more before Milan gathered their wits and fought back in time to keep the tie alive. But only Just.
They looked more solid after second-half changes, and started to fight back, roared on by a raucous home crowd who refused to quit on their team. They go into the second two down but it might been much worse for the home team on an occasion to savour.
The San Siro is approaching its centenary. Opened in 1926, renovated for the World Cup in 1990 and barely touched since. When empty, it looks its age. It is tired and in need of a little love and there are always plans afoot to tear it down.
Fill it up with Milanese passion, however, and it transforms into the Scala del Calcio, still one of the great stages of world football, and the focal point of the Champions League until Tuesday, when these two rivals meet again at the stadium they have shared since 1947.
Next week, it will teem with the black and blue of Inter. Last night, it was aglow in red and black. At least it was to begin with.
AC Milan’s home end, the Curva Sud, a heaving mass when the players sprinted out for their warm-up.
A banner, let them know, ‘Hell is empty, all the devils are here’ and there was a towering mosaic of a grinning devil with yellow eyes to greet the players when they came out of the tunnel for the kick-off.
All accompanied by the deafening noise of expectation but the mood soon shifted as two surgical Inter strikes inside the opening 11 minutes served to stun the home crowd into silence.
First Dzeko, the Manchester City favourite still going strong in Italy at 37, pinning his marker Davide Calabria at a corner and guiding a volley into the top corner with the inside of his left foot.
Then Mkhitaryan, formerly of Manchester United and Arsenal, burst through the soft centre of Milan’s defence and beating ‘keeper Mike Maignan with another clinical finish.
Two players with Manchester connections had torn the tie open and the slice of Inter fans, high in the Curva Nord bounced in delight. Flags and flares were unfurled and smoke drifted across the pitch.
The tie was hyped as the biggest in the city for 20 years. Back then, two clubs met at the same stage of this competition with Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan going through on away goals, a rule introduced to stop the defensive ‘Catenaccio’ tactics of these two clubs in the ‘60s, when they were crowned European champions twice each within seven years, but that rule is no longer in play.
When they met again, in the quarter-finals in 2005, it was Milan on top once more, this time amid ugly scenes as Inter fans threw fireworks onto the pitch with their side trailing badly, causing the second leg to be abandoned.