Make me your Homepage
left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Milan represents Italy's last hope

Updated: 2013-12-13 07:26
By Agence France-Presse in Milan ( China Daily)

Shorthanded AC Milan held out against spirited Ajax in a scoreless draw at the San Siro on Wednesday to become Italy's sole survivor in the Champions League.

Earlier, Juventus exited the competition at the group stages after an 85th -minute strike by Dutchman Wesley Sneijder handed Galatasaray a 1-0 win in Istanbul, which secured second spot for the Turks in Group B behind Real Madrid.

Milan was left as Italy's sole survivor in the knockout phase when Napoli went out on the head-to-head rule despite finishing in a tie with Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal.

It is the 11th season in succession seven-time champion Milan has made the last 16, the knockout phase of Europe's premier club event - and coach Massimiliano Allegri could not hide his relief.

"It is a huge relief. I think we lost a few kilos tonight," said Allegri, whose side played with 10 men for 71 minutes following the banishment of captain and midfielder Riccardo Montolivo.

Milan represents Italy's last hope

Milan welcomed Frank de Boer's men to San Siro stadium confident of claiming the point that would seal its entry to the knockout phase.

But after an auspicious start the Rossoneri's hopes suffered a huge blow when Montolivo saw red for a late tackle on midfielder Christian Poulsen.

Ajax shaded a fairly balanced first half and was unlucky not to have scored in the fifth minute when the goalpost saved Milan keeper Christian Abbiati after he was beaten by Poulsen's header.

Yet, despite Ajax enjoying most of the possession in a dominant second half and laying siege to the Milan goal, Allegri's men held firm to finish second in Group H behind Barcelona.

"The team really deserves this qualification. Against Ajax it was always going to be complicated, but it became even moreso after we were reduced to 10 men," said Allegri.

De Boer said his side, held to a 1-1 draw by Milan in Amsterdam, did not deserve to exit the competition.

"Looking at the two matches, I would say we deserved more than to finish in third place," said de Boer, whose team drops into the Europa League.

Milan's only real chance of the opening half came in the fourth minute when striker Mario Balotelli tested Jasper Cillessen with a dipping free kick which the keeper got down low to collect.

A minute later, Poulsen was unlucky to see his header from a corner sail over the Milan defense only to come off Abbiati's far post.

Ajax looked the far more relaxed team and in the 19th minute Abbiati had to be at full stretch to tip Danny Klaassen's brilliant diving header around the post after the winger met a low cross.

Minutes later, Ajax's last-16 prospects were given a boost with Montolivo's needless stamp on Poulsen.

Allegri immediately withdrew forward Stephan El Shaarawy for midfielder Andrea Poli, but later said: "I'm sure Riccardo did not mean this tackle. He's not a brutal player like that."

De Boer upped the stakes for Milan when he replaced defensive midfielder Poulsen with forward Danny Hoesen for the start of the second half, when Ajax really turned up the heat.

Ajax set up camp in Milan's area for most of the half but the host defended brilliantly to repel a constant barrage of crosses and shots.

"It's not so easy to find space when there are eight men behind the ball," said de Boer.

"We had a lot of crosses and we did everything we could with long balls into the area, and putting on the extra striker."

(China Daily 12/13/2013 page24)