France-born Hungarian Istvan Nyers barely spoke a word of Italian when, upon arrival in the boot-shaped country in 1948, he was summoned into the stately office of his new boss. The coy 24-year-old didn’t require the seductive romance language, however, to fathom the message on a note handed to him by Inter Milan president Carlo Masseroni. On it was the last six Derby della Madonnina results. All were AC Milan victories. The fixture, in an era when Torino were mercilessly monopolising Serie A, meant everything to its participants.
Nyers nodded affirmatively at Masseroni. A couple of months later, the striker made good on his nod, scoring a superb first and setting up the second as Inter beat Milan 2-0.
Wowed by Nyers‘ performance in that match, and seeing his name atop of the Capocannoniere race midway through the 1948/49 season, Milan went shopping for a foreign forward of their own. In January they got their man: Gunnar Nordahl. The broad-shouldered Swede hit a debut goal and within a month, he was thrust into his first Derby della Madonnina.
Inter and Milan were second and fourth respectively, separated by just a point, going into their clash on 6 February 1949. And while recent Milan derbies had been tight, goal-shy affairs, the shootout between Nyers and Nordahl, in front of 60,000-plus on a sunny day at the San Siro, hinted that this one could be the opposite.
It took merely two minutes for that hint to gain weight, with Carlo Annovazzi’s deflected free-kick leaving Inter goalkeeper Angelo Franzosi flat-footed and putting Milan ahead.
Inter pressed for an equaliser, with the pace and movement of Nyers causing considerable panic in the Rossoneri rearguard, and they had this consternation to thank for their 27th-minute equaliser. With Benito Lorenzi harrying him, Edy Gratton hurriedly attempted to pass the ball back to his keeper, only for it to catch Efrem Milanese off-guard and roll into his net. Much to the amusement of the spectators, Lorenzi mockingly tried to hug Gratton, who aggressively pushed him away.
Six minutes later Inter went in front. Aldo Campatelli freed Nyers, who took it in his stride and placed a brilliant right-foot shot in the bottom corner.
I Nerazzurri's advantage lasted less than 80 seconds. Renzo Burini craftily skipped away from his marker and crossed for Paddy Sloan, the first Irishman to play in Serie A (the next was Liam Brady 32 years later), to head home.
There was still time for one more goal before the break, and it was Milan who went in 3-2 up. Burini was once again the creator, with Nordahl’s vicious, perfectly-placed finish giving Franzosi no chance.
Seven minutes after the restart, Inter again had no answer to the Burini-Nordahl tandem. The 21-year-old Italian beat his man before crossing the ball for the 27-year-old Scandinavian, whose thunderous first-time strike made it 4-2.
Inter halved the deficit on 66 minutes, with a collision between Milanese and Foglia presenting Lorenzi with a present.
And I Nerazzurri would have the final say. Camillo Achilli and Gino Armano combined to find Nyers in space, and the man whose talent was honed by Helenio Herrera, the future Inter coach, at Stade Francais, coolly made it 4-4.
That was how a game which remains the highest-scoring draw in Derby della Madonnina history finished. The result helped Inter finished second, one place above Milan, as Superga-ravaged Torino won the last of five successive Scudetti. The personal 2-2 draw between Nyers and Nordahl helped the former finish 1948/49 as the 26-goal Capocannoniere winner and the latter end his first half-season in red and black with 16 goals in 15 games.
A new rivalry between two of Serie A’s all-time greatest strikers had been born 65 years ago to this Thursday – one which helped intensify one of European football’s hottest rivalries as Italian football entered a new era.