In the 1970s, the Coppa Italia was divided in two. First, there was a knockout group phase at the start of the season which served as preparation for the upcoming league campaign. Then, there was a final phase which took place following the conclusion of Serie A. In September 1971, the Rossoneri warmed up well as they finished top of their group on seven points after three wins and draw, three ahead of their nearest challengers Mantova and Novara.
With the league season over, the second phase began with a place in the final at stake. Joining AC Milan in a very tough group were Inter, Juventus and Torino. Home and away matches were scheduled, meaning the Derby della Madonnina, the Derby della Mole and all the other clashes between the respective sides from Milan and Turin would take place twice. The Rossoneri did extremely well at this point, winning the two Milanese Derbies and two fixtures against Juventus and drawing twice against Torino. Gianni Rivera, who had picked up an injury in April, returned to the pitch on 1 July in AC Milan’s final group game against Juventus at San Siro and scored the decisive goal in a 3-2 victory. Having qualified for the final, the Diavolo beat Napoli 2-0 in Rome.