Zlatan Ibrahimovic went from hero to villain in Tuesday's Coppa Italia quarter-final defeat to rivals Inter as he was involved in an ugly incident with Romelu Lukaku and later sent off in a 2-1 reverse sealed at the death by Christian Eriksen. (More Football News)
Swedish striker Ibrahimovic went into the match just two short of a 500th career club goal and few would have bet against him reaching the milestone in the derby after putting Milan in front, but he was unable to see out a controversial encounter.
Having earned a first yellow card in an earlier altercation with Lukaku, who was clearly incensed by the 39-year-old's behaviour, Ibrahimovic was perhaps unfortunate to earn a second booking for what referee Paolo Valeri deemed a foul on Aleksandar Kolarov.
If Lukaku's mood was not already improved by Ibrahimovic's dismissal, he was definitely smiling after converting a 71st-minute penalty, and Eriksen's gorgeous late free-kick sealed Inter a spot in the semi-finals.
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Inter had started to exert some control and looked the more threatening side before Milan opened the scoring in the 31st minute, as Ibrahimovic capitalised on hesitant defending to pick out the bottom-left corner from 16 yards.
Ibrahimovic was then involved in another flashpoint on the stroke of half-time as a spat with his former Manchester United team-mate Lukaku saw the pair going head-to-head and earning yellow cards.
With the half-time whistle blown shortly after, Lukaku had to be held back by team-mates as he attempted to confront Ibrahimovic again, the Belgian seemingly upset about a comment regarding his mother.
Tensions showed no sign of flaring up again after the break, though Ibrahimovic was sent off anyway, Valeri of the opinion he tripped Kolarov despite replays suggesting the contact was minimal.
While VAR was not called upon on that occasion, it was used a little later and ruled in Inter's favour after Rafael Leao was deemed to have caught Nicolo Barella in the box.
Lukaku's penalty crashed in off the crossbar and set the tone for a late Inter onslaught that was momentarily delayed by a hamstring injury to the referee, which contributed to 10 minutes of second-half stoppage time being added.
While Ciprian Tatarusanu in the Milan goal appeared destined to force extra-time after producing a string of fine saves, he was rendered helpless by Eriksen's pinpoint free-kick that found the top-left corner.
What does it mean? – Lukaku-Ibrahimovic incident unlikely to be brushed over, while Inter deal psychological blow
For Inter, the main focus after the win will be the fact they are now into the last four of the Coppa and may have dealt a mental blow to Milan, who they continue to chase down in Serie A.
However, it appears likely that this match will be remembered most for the first-half incident involving Ibrahimovic and Lukaku.
Italian media reported accusations about what the Swede is supposed to have said to his former Old Trafford colleague, and these will surely be thoroughly investigated by authorities in the coming days.
Tatarusanu unfortunate to lose
For a while it looked as though Milan were going to cling on and force an extra 30 minutes – that only appeared a possibility because of Tatarusanu's performance between the posts. He made eight saves in total, including several in the latter stages. There was not much he could have done about either goal, one a penalty – that almost went over – and the second an inch-perfect free-kick.
Ibrahimovic leaves a sour taste
Even if you disregard the red card, Ibrahimovic does not come out of this match looking great. His goal opened the scoring, of course, but his baiting of Lukaku was hardly endearing. No doubt we will be hearing more about that.
Key Opta facts
- Inter have reached the Coppa Italia semi-finals in successive seasons for the first time since 2009-10 and 2010-11.
- Eriksen's winner was Inter's first goal direct from a free-kick since Joao Cancelo netted in April 2018 against Cagliari, with 55 shots having failed to bring a goal since that game.
- Only Lionel Messi, Hakan Calhanoglu, Miralem Pjanic and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more direct free-kick goals than former Tottenham man Eriksen's 13 since 2013-14, taking into account players from the top five European leagues.
- Ibrahimovic is the only Milan player to have scored at least one goal in all three competitions contested by the Rossoneri this season (UEFA Europa League, Serie A and Coppa Italia).
- Ibrahimovic has scored eight goals in seven games for Milan against Inter. That is more than he has scored against any other team for the Rossoneri.
- Tomori became the first English player to appear for Milan since David Beckham in March 2010.
- Ibrahimovic was red-carded in a game played in Europe for the first time since March 2015, when he was dismissed while playing for Paris Saint-Germain against Chelsea.
- Lukaku has scored in each of his first four games against Milan since joining Inter.
It is back to the Serie A title race at the weekend for these two, with leaders Milan away to Bologna on Saturday and Inter aiming to punish any potential slip-up later the same day when they host Benevento.