MADRID (AP) — At an age when many strikers begin to lose their pace, Diego Milito is just getting started. In his first season at the very top level of football, the 30-year-old has scored the biggest goals for Inter Milan all season.
His two biggest strikes came Saturday to lead Inter past Bayern Munich 2-0 for the Italian club's first European Cup title in 45 years.
"This is a joy I've never experienced," Milito said. "Football always gives the chance for redemption. I always fought hard and tried to give my all and learn as much as I could, even though I'm 30."
"I want to thank Inter, the president (Massimo Moratti) and coach (Jose Mourinho) for wanting me last summer."
Milito may have been a little nervous at the start and slipped the first time he received the ball in Bayern's area but he made no mistake with his next chance in the 35th minute.
Following a long kick through midfield from Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar, Milito headed the ball to teammate Wesley Sneijder, who in turn gave it back to Milito with a defender trailing and Milito's shot was beyond the range of goalkeeper Joerg Butt.
Then in the 70th, Milito took a pass from Samuel Eto'o, dribbled around Daniel Van Buyten as if the Belgian were an amateur and landed another accurate shot in the net just below the end where Inter's fans were sitting at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
They were Milito's 29th and 30th goals in 52 games for Inter this season: six in the Champions League, 22 in Serie A and two in the Italian Cup. Perhaps more important than the numbers is when Milito scores.
He scored once and set up two other goals in Inter's 3-1 win over Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals; the only goal in Inter's 1-0 win over AS Roma in the Italian Cup final — when he carried the ball past three defenders; then less than a week ago he scored in Inter's 1-0 win over Siena to seal the Serie A title on the final day of the season.
Milito notched his first career Champions League goal in the group phase at Dynamo Kiev, equalizing in the 86th minute and spurring Inter on to a 2-1 away win. He also opened the scoring in the first knockout round against Chelsea and his was the only goal in a 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow in the opening leg of the quarterfinals.
Even Moratti couldn't have imagined he would get so much in return when he paid €18 million ($22.5 million) to Genoa in the offseason for Milito's services — with a few other players thrown in for good measure.
As evidenced with his performance against Barcelona, Milito is just as adept at setting up goals as scoring himself. Twice Saturday, he put the ball in perfect position for teammates, but Sneijder shot right at the goalkeeper from point-blank range in the 43rd and Goran Pandev put a shot over the bar in the 47th.
Milito exited to a standing ovation when he was replaced by Marco Materazzi in the 90th and was named the Man of the Match.
It's also been a special season for Milito off the field, with his wife Sofia giving birth to a girl, Agustina, in March — the couple's second child — and the year could even get better with Milito named to Argentina's World Cup squad.
His performances at Inter could even convince Argentina coach Diego Maradona to make him a starter at the tournament in South Africa.
Nicknamed "il principe" — the prince — Milito has left a scoring trail wherever he's gone.
He began his professional career at home in Argentina, scoring 34 goals over four seasons with Racing Avellaneda, the moved to Italy and scored 33 over a season and a half with Genoa in Serie B before transferring to Real Zaragoza in Spain and notching 53 over three seasons in the Spanish league.
On one night with Zaragoza — where Milito teamed with his younger brother Gabriel, a defender — he scored four against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey.
Milito rejoined Genoa for last season and produced his biggest single-season output with 24 goals — one below Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Serie A-best 25. Milito, of course, was brought in by Inter to replace Ibrahimovic, a player many considered irreplaceable.
Ibrahimovic is just a memory now, though, and Milito has made himself a big part of Inter's history.