MILAN (AP) — Rafael Leão summed up the mood at AC Milan quite succinctly.

The injured striker was all smiles ahead of the start of his team’s Champions League semi-final match against Inter Milan on Wednesday. But less than 11 minutes after kickoff, he looked distraught.

That’s because Inter quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead, a score that didn’t change the rest of the night, and took a huge lead ahead of next week’s second leg.

Inter Milan’s Edin Dzeko, right, celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the Champions League semi-final first leg match between AC Milan and Inter Milan at San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. (AP Photo/ Antonio Calanni)

But before Milan have a chance to reverse the deficit, the team must worry about securing a place in next year’s Champions League. Milan are embroiled in an increasingly close battle for a place in the top four of Serie A and visit relegation-threatened Spezia in Serie A on Saturday.

Milan are two points behind fourth place Inter, who host Sassuolo.

“Serie A is important, just like the Champions League,” Milan manager Stefano Pioli said. “So I will try to make better decisions so we can play better and try to win against Spezia and then try to overturn this result.”

Spezia are only three points above the relegation zone, so they will also be desperate for victory.

Pioli will have to decide whether to risk Leão in that match, which comes just four days before the second leg against Inter. Leão missed Wednesday’s match after failing to recover in time from a thigh injury sustained over the weekend.

Without Leão’s creativity, Milan seemed short of ideas and created just three clear chances against Inter, with Sandro Tonali hitting the post and Junior Messias and Brahim Díaz narrowly deflected.

Olivier Giroud was left isolated up front as Milan lost Leão’s lethal rhythm.

In contrast, Inter’s veterans excelled: 37-year-old Edin Džeko and 34-year-old Henrikh Mkhitaryan both scored.

“How old am I today? I am 37 years old but I feel good and that is the important thing”, said Džeko with a smile. “I feel fresh maybe because I rested three days ago.

“But the whole team was excited. Not every year you play a Champions League semifinal and especially a derby. We were focused from the first minute to the last and we were rewarded for that.”

Džeko became the second-oldest goalscorer in the Champions League semi-finals with his 400th career goal. Mkhitaryan moved to seventh place on that list.

Džeko has scored in all three of his appearances in the final four of Europe’s elite club competition, having netted in both legs of Roma’s semi-final loss to Liverpool in 2018.

The other semi-final matchup this year is between Džeko’s old club Manchester City and Real Madrid. They drew 1-1 on Tuesday.

“I would like to face City in the final. I hope we will,” Džeko said. “But we are not thinking so much about the future because the semifinal is a fundamental match in a player’s career.