Milan hold on to make last four despite late Napoli rally
A late Victor Osimhen goal for Napoli was not enough as AC Milan advanced to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2007.
On a hugely significant night for both teams, it was Napoli that looked to suffocate Milan from the first whistle.
Luciano Spalletti’s side fired in cross after cross and didn’t allow their opponents time on the ball when they had it, pressing Milan with intensity and aggression.
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The hosts were dealt a blow in the 34th minute when Matteo Politano, who had been the best player on the pitch up to that point, was forced off with an injury. Mario Rui was replaced at the same time, also due to injury.
Milan began to pose a threat on the counter-attack and in the 20th minute they won a penalty. Rafael Leao found space in the penalty area and as he threaded a ball into Brahim Diaz he was taken out by compatriot Mario Rui.
But Olivier Giroud could only fire a tame effort which Alex Meret was equal to.
Just five minutes later Milan and Giroud had another huge chance. The French forward brought the ball under his spell in the area before firing an effort on goal which Meret saved well with his legs.
Milan did however take the lead just a couple of minutes before half-time thanks to some magic from Leao. The Portuguese international picked the ball up deep in his own half, used his pace to get away from Tanguy Ndombele, before skipping past two Napoli defenders and finding Giroud, who was on hand for a tap-in.
Players of AC Milan, Fikayo Tomori and Olivier Giroud, celebrate the win at the end of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg match between SSC Napoli and AC Milan at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on April 18, 2023 in Naples, Italy.
Image credit: Getty Images
Napoli emerged for the second-half in the same fashion as the first, looking to play with high intensity to break down the stubborn Milan defence. Stefano Pioli’s side dug in and defended expertly, they had just 24% possession in the second period but limited Napoli to very little in the way of clear-cut opportunities.
Napoli were offered a lifeline in the 82nd minute when Fikayo Tomori handled in the area and conceded a penalty.
However, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia stepped up and saw his effort brilliantly saved by Mike Maignan. The French goalkeeper had an air of confidence about him all game and the penalty save was the icing on the cake for a fine performance.
Osimhen was on hand to fire home a bullet header in the dying seconds to equalise on the night for the hosts but it was too little too late as the referee blew for full-time shortly after and AC Milan advanced.
TALKING POINT – A DEFENSIVE MASTERCLASS
Stefano Pioli’s side executed their game-plan to near perfection tonight. They were put under intense pressure from the first whistle but the Milan back four and Mike Maignan all stood up to be counted time and time again.
When Milan did win the ball from Napoli in their own half, the presence of Rafael Leao meant Milan had a player they could find to pose a threat on the counter-attack. In total, Napoli had 74% possession and had a whopping 23 shots but the most telling statistic is that just four of those shots were on target, the same number that Milan had.
Pioli’s side forced the hosts into rushed shots and efforts from distance, with the ones that did look like they were heading on target more often than not seeing a Milan defender on hand to throw his body on the line, resulting in a total of nine blocked shots.
A dogged, resolute performance and Milan are deservedly through to the semi-final.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – MIKE MAIGNAN (AC MILAN)
On a night like tonight, the award for Player of the Match could have been awarded to any number of Milan players. Goalkeeper Maignan was there for Milan whenever he was called upon and his 82nd-minute penalty save to deny Khvicha Kvaratskhelia was a key moment. Had the Georgian found the back of the net with eight minutes left plus stoppages, the outcome of the game could well have been very different but Maignan was on hand to pull off a stunning save.
Napoli: Meret 7, Di Lorenzo 7, Rrahmani 6, Jesus 6, Rui 5, Ndombele 7, Lobotka 7, Zielinski 7, Politano 7, Osimhen 7, Kvaratskhelia 7 Subs: Olivera 6, Lozano 7, Elmas 6, Ostigard 6, Raspadori 7
Milan: Maignan 9, Hernandez 7, Tomori 7, Kjaer 8, Calabria 8, Krunic 7, Tonali 7, Leao 8, Bennacer 7, Diaz 7, Giroud 7 Subs: Messias 6, Origi 6, Saelemaekers 6
22′ PENALTY TO AC MILAN! – Milan break on the counter attack with Leao, he slides the ball to Brahim Diaz but is then cleaned out by compatriot Mario Rui and AC Milan have a penalty!
23′ THE PENALTY IS SAVED! – Olivier Giroud steps up and fires his effort to the right which Meret is equal to. A good save but a poor penalty.
27′ A HUGE SAVE FROM MERET! – The ball is fed into Giroud who collects it well before firing an effort which Meret saves with his legs!
43′ GOAL – AC MILAN – Leao embarks on an unbelievable run, flying past several Napoli players before squaring it to Giroud who taps it home!
58′ A HUGE CHANCE FOR KVARATSKHELIA! – The Georgian does brilliantly to get between two Milan defenders but then fires his effort well over the bar.
79′ A PENALTY TO NAPOLI! – The referee has given a penalty to Napoli for a handball in the penalty area! The ball hit Tomori’s hand from Di Lorenzo’s cross.
81′ THE PENALTY IS SAVED! – Kvaratskhelia steps up and fires his penalty towards the bottom left-hand corner but Mike Maignan dives across and gets a strong hand to save it!
90′ GOAL – NAPOLI – Victor Osimhen with a bullet header to equalise on the night! There is one minute left for Napoli to find another.
Milan join Juventus as the Italian team with the most participations in the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League with seven.
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