San Siro - Milan's cathedral of football
© Popper Foto

The San Siro - or to give its official name, the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza - is the proud home of two of Italy's great football clubs, AC Milan and Internazionale. It is also no exaggeration to call it a symbol for football lovers the world over, in much the same way La Scala resonates far beyond Milan for opera aficionados. Situated on the western edge of the city with a capacity of 82,955, its steep access ramps and three tiers of stands make it appear every inch an unassailable fortress.

Befitting a venue of such grandeur, the San Siro has twice hosted football's most-renowned international showpiece. The FIFA World Cups ™ of 1934 and 1990 both offered up historic encounters on what is one of the sport's purest stages.

The original structure was built to a typically English model, with four separate stands and room for only 35,000 fans. In the autumn of 1926 the inaugural match was held, a Milanese derby naturally, and to this day Inter hold the bragging rights of winning that first contest 6-3. The national team paid their first visit on 20 February 1927, playing out a 2-2 draw with Czechoslovakia. However, the real international baptism came seven years later with the 1934 FIFA World Cup.

The San Siro staged three matches as the world's leading teams congregated for a second time, beginning with an exciting 3-2 triumph for Switzerland over the Netherlands. The quarter-final contest that followed saw Germany emerge 2-1 winners against Sweden but it was on 3 June 1934, that the stadium earned its place in the hearts of Italian football fans as the tournament hosts took on Austria's outstanding Wunderteam in the semi-final. Amid a stirring atmosphere on a rain-soaked pitch, Italy secured a 1-0 victory through Enrico Guaita's 19 th-minute goal. Vittorio Pozzo's Azzurri went on to win the title against Czechoslovakia in Rome, lifting the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time.

By the time FIFA World Cup football returned to the San Siro in 1990, the old ground had been given a new name - not to mention a complete facelift. In 1980, the San Siro became the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza following the death of the eponymous Italy striker who starred for both Milan clubs and remains Inter's all-time record scorer.

A decade later the Giuseppe Meazza was unrecognisable from the stadium that had hosted those FIFA World Cup matches back in 1934. The stadium had already grown with the addition of a second tier in 1956 but the most significant developments came prior to Italia 90 with the construction of a third tier and the eleven towers that support the roof.

For the opening match of the 1990 FIFA World Cup the stadium offered the world a truly remarkable spectacle: in the city of Il Duomo, here was a space-age cathedral of football. Events on the pitch were equally spectacular. Reigning champions Argentina kicked off the tournament against a Cameroon side many thought were there to merely make up the numbers. Yet sporting logic was turned on its head as, in front of 73,780 spectators, François Omam-Biyik's 67th-minute goal announced the true arrival of African football. The few supporters of the Indomitable Lions who made the long trip to Milan celebrated long into the night their team's humbling of indelible legends such as Maradona, Burruchaga and Sensini.

If the San Siro saw the shock of the tournament, it also saw the best of the eventual winners, West Germany. With three Inter stars in their team - Andreas Brehme, Lothar Matthaus and Jurgen Klinsmann - Franz Beckenbauer's side received notable vocal support from the Milanese crowd gave and featured in all but one of the six matches held in the city. It was here that the Germans saw off Yugoslavia (4-1), United Arab Emirates (5-1), Netherlands (2-1) and Czechoslovakia (1-0). The only stumble from a powerful West Germany side at the San Siro came against Colombia, who managed a creditable 1-1 draw.

Of course, it does not take a FIFA World Cup to draw world stars to the San Siro which has witnessed many memorable triumphs down the decades from both Milan clubs (who between them have won over 30 Serie A titles). If numerous star names have graced the turf in the colours of both Milan and Inter, two local families have made as great a contribution as anybody. Cesare Maldini and his son Paolo are the thread that links Milan's first European Cup win in 1963 with more recent triumphs while in the black-and-blue corner, Massimo Moratti is owner of the club where his father Angelo presided over two European Cup triumphs in the 1960s.

Home to Milan since 1926 and to Inter since 1947, the San Siro is Italian football's finest stage. From Serie A showdowns to FIFA World Cups, it has a history and stature that few stadiums on the planet can match.

In almost a century of rivalry, only one man has ever come close to bridging the chasm. Having devoted the best part of his career to Inter, 1938 FIFA World Cup winner Giuseppe Meazza pulled on the red and black shirt for two seasons as well. After his death, both teams agreed that the stadium they share should be renamed in his honour, and since 3 March 1980, it has been officially called the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium. For the superstitious supporters though, it will always be the San Siro.