AC Milan returned to the race for Europe by edging city rivals Inter Milan 1-0 in a dismal Derby della Madonnina encounter at the San Siro. In better times the Milan showpiece has proved key to the destiny of the Italian Serie A title, or to UEFA Champions League qualification, but Sunday night saw the two clubs scrapping for UEFA Europa League berths.
Nigel de Jong's header meant what little glory there was to take from the evening went to Milan, who climbed to eighth place where they lie three points and three places behind Inter with two games of the season remaining. It was a first-half display that went a long way to demonstrate how the glamour has faded from this fixture in recent seasons as both sides flattered to deceive at the San Siro.
Early on, Mario Balotelli tried his luck from distance to test Samir Handanovic's reflexes in the Inter goal and, after Kevin Constant started a counter-attack from deep, Adel Taarabt shot wide from the edge of the box. Christian Abbiati got a rare feel of the ball when Yuto Nagatomo skipped past Mattia De Sciglio to drive a low cross into the Milan box.
Rodrigo Palacio looked poised to score for Inter when racing onto Mateo Kovacic's through-ball, but the Argentinian was ruled offside before he could let rip. A flash of inspiration drew limited ripples of applause in the 25th minute as Taarabt's killer pass down the right-hand channel split Inter's defence.
De Sciglio arrived unmarked in the penalty area but could only find the side-netting. The slogging continued without reward until Kaka got loose to rattle a drive at Handanovic before the Brazilian clattered the crossbar with an overhead kick on De Jong's cross.
Kaka might have snatched an opener shortly before the break when stretching to reach Taarabt's ball across the box, but he made a poor connection and sliced over. Milan continued to boss proceedings when play resumed and came close to notching through Philippe Mexes in the 58th minute as the Frenchman got his head to a corner and nodded just wide.
Dutchman De Jong with the decider
The Rossoneri made an overdue breakthrough five minutes after the hour. Inter's marking was poor when Balotelli swung the ball into the box from a free-kick and De Jong stooped forward unopposed to power home from six yards.
Riccardo Montolivo then looked for the far post without success and, in the 77th minute, Balotelli had the ball in the back of the net only for Giampaolo Pazzini to be caught in an offside position. A disappointing night for Inter took a turn for the worse for one of the club's favourite sons when Javier Zanetti was not given the chance to make his one final derby appearance from the bench.
The 40-year-old Argentinian will retire at the end of the season, his 19th with the Nerazzurri, but the full-back remained in the dugout when coach Walter Mazzarri made his final substitution.