With 5 teams in European semifinals, Italian soccer is back
For the first time in six years, city rivals AC Milan and Inter Milan play each other in the semis.
MILAN: Italian soccer is back. Following years of domination by teams from Spain and England, there is a distinct Italian flavour to Europe's top club competitions this season.
Five Italian teams have qualified for the semifinals of UEFA's three competitions for the first time — more than England and Spain combined as those countries have two teams each left.
And there will definitely be an Italian team in the showpiece Champions League final — for the first time in six years — as city rivals AC Milan and Inter Milan play each other in the semis.
Juventus and Roma could both advance to the Europa League final — they face Sevilla and Bayer Leverkusen, respectively, in the semifinals — while Fiorentina plays Basel in the final four of the Europa Conference League.
"We're talking about an exceptional result, having five Italian teams in European competition has never happened before," Serie A chief executive Luigi De Siervo said. "We're convinced that this — in the year that we're selling the TV rights — will bring our soccer back to the top of the world: we're coming back to show ourselves for what we are. It's been a long journey, forged over time."
Italian teams have enjoyed several periods of dominance on the European stage, including during the 1980s and '90s. Between 1989 and 1998, all but one final of the Champions League — or European Cup as it was previously known — featured a team from Serie A.
In comparison, Juventus is the only team to reach the final (twice) since Inter won Italy's last title in the competition in 2010.
Only five different Italian teams have even reached the European semifinals in the past decade — although Juventus and Roma reached three apiece across the competitions.
Now Serie A has a chance to replicate its feat from 1990 of having its teams win all three of UEFA's top competitions in the same season.
The increased Italian success in Europe reflects the increased competitiveness of Serie A.
After Juventus dominated the league for nearly a decade with nine straight titles, there have been three different Serie A champions over the past three seasons — and there is all but certain to be a fourth this campaign.
Inter Milan ended Juventus' stranglehold on the league crown in 2021 and city rival Milan then won it last year. Napoli is now on the brink of ending a 33-year wait for the "scudetto" and could secure the title as soon as this weekend.
"Serie A is the only league in Europe where four different teams have won in the past four years: Juve, then Inter, Milan and now Napoli," De Siervo said. "That is what has led to us improving in Europe over the past four years. I hope now that it is a long-lasting result."
Napoli also had an impressive run in Europe this season, reaching the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time before being eliminated by Milan.
Roma's success in last season's Europa Conference League was the first European trophy for an Italian team since Inter won the treble of the Champions League, Serie A and the Italian Cup in 2010.
Both teams were coached by the same man: José Mourinho.
The victory also came just the year after Italy won the European Championship.
That all helped instil a belief that Italian teams could match the best in Europe.
Moreover, that belief was boosted by the rise back to the top of two of Italy's most storied clubs.
Seven-time European champion AC Milan's is back in the semifinals for the first time since it last won the Champions League in 2007. Inter had also not reached the final four since its treble-winning season.
An Italian team has never won the Europa League in its current format. Parma won it in 1999 when it was still known as the UEFA Cup. Inter finished runner-up in 2020, losing to Sevilla in the final.
The Italian region of Emilia Romagna has three coaches in the Champions League semifinals, as Inter's Simone Inzaghi, Milan's Stefano Pioli and Real Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti all hail from there.
That beats the previous record of the German region of Bavaria having two coaches in the final four: Julian Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel.