Whether you know them as Inter Milan, just Inter, Internazionale or their grand full title, Football Club Internazionale Milano, there is no doubt that they are one of the great clubs of European football. Spurred on by a sometimes bitter rivalry with neighbours AC Milan, Inter have won numerous honours over the years. Their haul of silverware includes 19 Serie A titles (the same number as AC Milan, at the time of writing) and three Europa Leagues. But it’s the Champions League (formerly known as the European Cup) that is our focus here, and Inter Milan have won that three times since the tournament was established in the 1955/56 season.
In this article, we’ll give details of Inter’s three Champions League/European Cup triumphs and we’ll also outline the times they came close but failed at the final hurdle. Finally, we’ll take a glance back to the times when Inter suffered major upsets in Europe’s top club competition.
When Did Inter Milan Last Win the Champions League?
Inter last won the Champions League in 2010 when they beat Bayern Munich 2-0 at the Bernabéu in Madrid. Jose Mourinho was Inter’s manager at the time and Argentine striker, Diego Milito, scored both Inter’s goals. It was Mourinho’s second Champions League success (after leading Porto to glory in 2004). It was also Inter’s first European trophy since they won the (now-rebranded as the Europa league) UEFA Cup in 1998.
Champions League Finals
Inter have won Europe’s top club competition three times, which is the same number as Manchester United and one more than Juventus but four short of city rivals, AC Milan. Aside from their three triumphs, they’ve also lost in the final twice, in 1967 to Celtic (more of which later in the article) and, in 1972, to the brilliant Dutch side of the early 1970s, Ajax.
Stage of Elimination
At the time of writing, Inter have competed in the European Cup or Champions League a total of 23 times. They have made it to the quarter finals or beyond more than half the time and they’ve only stumbled really early in the tournament (Group Stage or earlier) a quarter of the time.
|Stage||Number of Times||Percentage|
|Round of 16||5||22%|
|Third Qualifying Round||1||4%|
NB – the data provided is correct ahead of the 2022/23 season. Percentages are based on the total of European Cups/Champions Leagues that United qualified for and do not equal 100% due to rounding.
Times Inter Milan Won the Champions League
Here we’ll take a closer look at the times when Inter won the European Cup/Champions League, starting with their most recent in 2010 in Madrid.
2010: Mourinho Magic in Madrid
Jose Mourinho replaced the highly successful Roberto Mancini as Inter manager and promptly won the Serie A title and the Supercoppa Italiana in his first season. To be fair, he had inherited a very good side who had already won three league titles in succession, but they hadn’t conquered Europe since the 1960s (if you ignore their UEFA Cup wins in 1998, 1994 and 1991, at least). Winning the Champions League was thus Mourinho’s prime objective, and he certainly delivered.
Inter only finished second in their group behind Barcelona after the Catalans won 2-0 in Spain and earned a 0-0 stalemate in Italy. Inter turned on the style in their Round of 16 tie against Mourinho’s former club Chelsea, however, when the Italians won 3-1 on aggregate. They then eased past CSKA Moscow 2-0 in the quarters before they face Barca in the semis. This time things went the way of Inter as they won 3-1 at the San Siro before limiting Barca to a 1-0 victory in the return leg in what was a brilliantly solid defensive performance against a side with an abundance of attacking talent.
This set up a final against German powerhouses Bayern Munich who had a brilliantly balanced side that included Philipp Lahm, Thomas Müller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dutch ace Arjen Robben. Inter had stars of their own of course, with Sauel Eto’o, Maicon, Diego Milito and their own Dutchman, Wesley Sneijder.
The Germans dominated possession in the final, but they were unable to create enough clearcut chances to make it count. Despite having only 32% of the ball, Inter had more shots on target (seven to Bayern’s six) and the only stat that really counts went the way of the Italians as Milito’s brace gave his side the 2-0 victory. It was by no means pretty but what Mourinho achieved in guiding that relatively limited Inter side to a treble should not be underestimated.
1965: Third Club to Retain European Cup
Given that Real Madrid won the first five European Cups (from 1956 to 1960) and then Benfica won the next two, by the time Inter Milan retained their European crown in 1965, it was not really a big deal. Indeed quite a few clubs have managed it since (including Ajax, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and AC Milan). But even so, winning back-to-back European Cups or Champions Leagues is still a massive achievement and when Inter did it in 1965, they did it against a Benfica side that included one of the greatest players of all time: Eusébio.
Inter had a great team of their own back then, however, with the core of Italian players like Armando Picchi and Tarcisio Burgnich complemented by Brazilian winger, Jair, and a couple of Spaniards (including Luis Suárez – and not the one who likes biting opponents!). In a tight game, it was Jair’s 43rd-minute strike that made the difference. Given that the match was played in Inter’s home stadium, the San Siro, this was an even more special occasion for their fans. And, at the time of writing, this was the last time a side has won a European Cup/Champions League final at their own ground.
1964: Whatever AC Milan Can Do…
After Real’s five European Cups and Benfica’s two, the 1963 Cup went to AC Milan. This clearly riled Inter into action as they wanted to emulate their rivals. And emulate them they did as they followed up their 1963 Serie A title win with a fantastic run in Europe.
In the first round, they overcame Everton, although it wasn’t easy, the Italians edging it 1-0 on aggregate thanks to a goal by Brazilian Jair (who, as noted above, scored some pretty handy goals for Inter). Next up they beat Monaco home and away to progress to the quarter where they faced Partizan Belgrade. Another good couple of performances led to their 4-1 aggregate triumph to line up a semi final clash against Borussia Dortmund. It was nip and tuck after the first leg in Germany that finished 2-2, but Inter made sure of things in the second game when they won 2-0, Sandro Mazzola and Jair getting the goals.
In the final, which took place in Vienna, Inter would meet the mighty Real Madrid who were seeking their sixth European title. The Spanish team was packed full of some of the best players on the planet at the time, notably Hungarian ace Ferenc Puskás (who had become a Spanish citizen by then) and Alfredo Di Stéfano (who was born in Argentina but had also taken up Spanish citizenship by then). But on the day it was the Italians who shone as they went into a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Mazzola in the 43rd minute and Aurelio Milani in the 61st. Real hit back on 70 minutes through Felo, but Mazzola added a third for the Italians six minutes later to earn Inter their first European Cup.
Inter Milan’s Worst Upsets
As with any club that’s qualified for Europe’s elite competition numerous times, things have not always gone according to plan. In fact, given that they have only won it 13% of the time they’ve played in the competition, things don’t go to plan far more often than not. Here are some of the least enjoyable occasions in the tournament from an Inter perspective.
Scots Scupper Italian Party – Final, 1966/67
Inter went into their European campaign in high spirits after landing their 10th Serie A title the season before. They had already overcome Real Madrid in the quarters and edged past CSKA Red Flag of Bulgaria in the semis, and looked well set to land their third European title. After all, no side from Britain, let alone Scotland, had even made the final up to that point.
Indeed, Inter took an early lead when the hero from the 1964 final, Sandro Mazzola, slotted home a penalty after just seven minutes. But Celtic’s Lisbon Lions, as the team was later dubbed, clearly weren’t phased by going a goal down or being the underdogs and they put in a fantastic performance to get themselves back into the game. Tommy Gemmell got the equaliser, smashing in from 25 yards after 63 minutes to set up an exciting climax in the Portuguese capital. Then with barely five minutes left on the clock, Stevie Chalmers deflected a shot from Bobby Murdoch past sprawling Inter keeper Giuliano Sarti.
Celtic became the first British club to be crowned European champions (but were soon joined the following year by Manchester United) and Inter would have to wait more than four decades before they landed their third European title.
Hell in Helsingborg – Third Qualifying Round, 2000/01
Inter have been dumped out of the Champions League at the Group Stage on plenty of occasions, but in the 2000/01 season, they didn’t even make it that far. They faced the relative minnows Helsingborg of Sweden in the Third Qualifying Round and despite having world-class players like Andrea Pirlo, Hakan Sukur, Laurent Blanc and… er… Robbie Keane amongst their ranks, Inter lost the first leg 1-0. Little-known midfielder Michael Hansson scored the winning goal that day in the 81st minute, and the Swedes backed up that massive victory with a battling 0-0 draw at the San Siro in the return leg.
Swedish Shock – First Round, 1989/90
Inter Milan suffered a big upset against Swedish opposition when Malmö beat them 2-1 on aggregate, more than a decade before their loss to Helsingborg. Celebrated Italian manager Giovanni Trapattoni was in the dugout for Inter at the time, but despite him having guided Juventus to the European Cup five years earlier, he was unable to emulate that success with Inter when his side fell at the first hurdle. The Italians had some top players at the time, including a trio of Germans who would soon end up as World Cup winners, Lothar Matthäus, Andreas Brehme and Jürgen Klinsmann.
Håkan Lindman got the only goal of the game in the first leg in Sweden as Malmö held on for an impressive victory. Then in the return leg at the San Siro, Inter eventually edged into the lead after 70 minutes, but the Swedes hit back 10 minutes later through Leif Engqvist to make it 1-1. That’s how it finished, sending Inter crashing out and Malmö into the Second Round (where they lost 4-1 on aggregate to Belgian side KV Mechelen). To rub salt in the wound, Inter’s city rivals AC Milan ended up winning the tournament!