Champions League day 1 – Milan turn on the style and Lazio hit a rock in Greece

UEFA Champions League logoThe Champions League adventure has just begun for the Italian clubs, and current title holders AC Milan are off to a very good start. In a brilliant display of attacking football, the Rossoneri took home their first 3 points in this year’s CL campaign by beating Portuguese club Benfica on a score of 2-1, courtesy of Andrea Pirlo and Filippo Inzaghi. The match was extremely enjoyable to watch thanks to the offensive efforts of both teams, and could have ended with a much higher goal total.

Meanwhile, Lazio traveled to Athens to face Greek league champions Olympiakos, and tried to obtain their first win of the season (Serie A included). The match was fairly sterile in terms of scoring chances, and Lazio can consider themselves lucky to be walking out of Athens with a point. After a boring 1st fraction, the Greek team immediately went ahead early in the 2nd period. However, thanks to a late equalizer from wing-back Luciano Zauri Lazio managed to obtain 1 point from their visit, a valuable commodity in a group which includes Champions League juggernaughts Real Madrid and Werder Bremen.

Champions League day 1 - Milan-Benfica & Olympiakos-Lazio final scores

Milan started their game with the same line-up as their glorious night of Athens, which in May 2007 saw them crowned European Champions (the only exception being the insertion of Kakha Kaladze for injured captain Paolo Maldini). Amongst the Benfica ranks, coach Antonio Camacho fielded an ‘old friend’ of the Rossoneri, Manuel Rui Costa, which received a veritable standing ovation at the time of his entrance. But as much as the Rossoneri fans were glad to see the Portuguese playmaker back at San Siro, they would be even happier with Milan’s performance tonight. Carlo Ancelotti‘s men immediately took things into their own hands early in the half, and would not let go until the final whistle of English referee Mike Riley.

Pirlo’s magical accuracy on dead balls puts the Rossoneri aheadOnly 8 minutes had passed before Milan obtained their first chance: a good run down the right wing by Massimo Oddo (in excellent form tonight, both offensively and defensively) was followed by an equally good cross to the 2nd post. Waiting for the reception, de-facto captain Massimo Ambrosini was ready to re-direct to Pippo Inzaghi, but the Milan striker missed the ball by a hair. Then, cue the Andrea Pirlo free-kick magic: slightly off towards the left wing, about 25m away from goal, the ball trajectory by the Milan player was perfect, with enough power and curl to end right at the top left corner. Benfica keeper Quim could only watch, attempt the dive, and parry into his own net. 1-0 for Milan.

Five minutes later, the same players that had started the dance came together again: cross by Oddo to Inzaghi, Pippo controlled the ball, turned around, but his shooting attempt swirled wide with Quim out of position. Then more Milan: on the 16th, another Oddo cross, Ambrosini attempted the half-volley, Quim was ready this time. Where was Kaká during all this time? Well, right here: minute 21, great run deep into the Benfica defense, low cross to center, Clarence Seedorf dummy to leave for Pippo, but the striker’s rotating shot was once again saved by the Portuguese keeper.

It would be about time Benfica stuck their neck of the shell, right? You woudln’t have to tell Rui Costa twice: fast run down the center, and smashing hit from 30m that Dida somehow managed to deflect wide. It was the Benfica revival: two minutes later, cross by Ángel Di María from the left wing, Dida missed the interception and Cardozo all alone on the 2nd post found the header onto… the post! How unlucky for the Lisbon club…

Pippo’s rotating volley gives Milan the lead, and Inzaghi’s 60th personal goal in the competitionWell, do you know the French saying that goes “but raté, but encaissé”? It literally translates to “missed chance, conceded goal”, and no quote could be more appropriate in this case: in a perfect textbook example of a counterattack, Milan fed the ball down the left wing for Kaká, who then dribbled his way towards the center and spotted Pirlo all alone on the right. Instead of shooting directly, the Milan midfielder waited for the defenders to drop back and then delivered a perfect cross to unmarked Inzaghi on the left. Pippo’s rotating half-volley meant the 2-0 scoreline for the Rossoneri, in imperial form tonight.

Following Inzaghi’s 60th tally in Europe, time for Dida to get his hands warmed up. Following a great Rui Costa spot pass, Cardozo would be once again denied the goal, this time by a quick reaction save of the Brazilian keeper (it didn’t help too much the Benfica striker actually shot directly at Dida). The half ended on the 2-0 scoreline, but not before Kaká had one final chance to make it 3, all alone in front of Quim (shot wide).

The San Siro crowd reserved a really warm welcome for Manuel Rui CostaIn the 2nd half one would have expected the Rossoneri to close down in defense and operate on counters, but this Milan team tonight had other plans. Instead, they kept pounding at the Benfica doorstep and continued obtaining chance after chance. The constant runs up the wing of Jankulovski and Oddo were sending the Benfica defense into rapture: the Czech wing-back in particular was often dangerous on the left side with long-range shots and assists that came awfully close of the Portuguese net. In the 54′, another Kaká gazelle-run on the right wing saw the Brazilian star blast a furious shot on goal from a tight angle, but Quim closed down the first post and parried away into corner. The Portuguese keeper would really outdo himself minutes later.

On the 76′ mark, another Jankulovski run on the left (after a great 1-2 exchange with Kaká) gave the Czech winger a great chance for low cross to Pippo Inzaghi, but the Milan striker’s stretching shot was brilliantly saved by Quim! Then on the following play, a terrible defensive mistake gave the ball right back to Milan, and Emerson was able to arm a looping shot just below the bar! However once again Quim managed to get up and parry the ball over! Two great saves in quick succession, but Milan should really be up by 4 goals at this point…

In the dying minutes of the game, just when the 3 points & clean sheet seemed to be on ice for the Rossoneri, Benfica pulled one back with Nuno Gomes (on for Cardozo) who exploited a crossing pass to the 2nd post by Kostas Katsouranis. It was Milan’s only mistake in an otherwise perfect night.


 AC Milan
 S.L. Benfica
GOALSCORERS: 9′ Pirlo (M), 23′ Inzaghi (M), 92′ Nuno Gomes (B)
MILAN (4-3-2-1): Dida – Oddo (81’ Bonera), Nesta, Kaladze, Jankulovski – Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini – Seedorf (75’ Emerson), Kaka – Inzaghi (84’ Gilardino). (bench: Kalac, Simic, Favalli, Brocchi) Coach: Ancelotti
BENFICA ( 4-4-2 ): Quim – Luis Felipe, Edcarlos, Miguel Vitor (73’ Binya), Leo – Maxi Pereira, Katsouranis, C.Rodríguez, Di Maria – Rui Costa (87’ Nuno Assis), Cardozo (63’ Nuno Gomes). (bench: Butt, Bergessio, Nélson, Ribeiro). Coach: Camacho.

In the other match of the day, Olympiakos-Lazio was played in an empty Karaiskakis stadium (due to Olympiakos’s last season trouble against Shakhtar UEFA had condemned them to play behind closed doors), which didn’t particularly help to create the mood. Mind you, the teams on the field weren’t especially keen in helping either, and the first 45 minutes ended up being quite drab.

‘Old man” Predrag Djordjevic (age 35) and ex-Napoli Luciano Galletti were trying their best to break the Lazio defense (on the left and right wings respectively) but to no avail. On the other side Lazio were defending well, and operating on quick counterattacks to bring high numbers in front of the Greek area, but their finishing left a lot to be desired.

Luciano Galletti sidesteps Ballotta to give Olympiakos the 1-0 leadThe only real chances of the first period were rare: an early cross by Vasilis Torosidis which found Djordjevic (ensuing shot over the bar), a timid Lazio reply with a hard free kick by Cristian Ledesma (which the keeper parried into corner), and finally a nice shot by Galletti that was deftly neutralized by grandad Marco Ballotta. The future of Lazio goalkeeping may very well be youngster Fernando Muslera, but the present is still the 43-year old Casalecchio-native (Ballotta can actually be happy to have entered the Champions League record books for the oldest player in the competition: 43 years and 168 days!). The half-time score was thus 0-0, not surprising given the level of play.

At the restart, Olympiakos coach Takis Lemonis must have said something to his players because they came out of the tunnel stormin’! After only 5 minutes Ballotta had to intervene once again following a close-range Paraskevas Antzas header, but alas for Lazio, he could not stop Galletti 6 minutes later, perfectly set up by Djordjevic: through on goal, the Argentine winger cooly sidestepped Lazio’s nº1 and deposited into the empty net. 1-0 Olympiakos.

At this point Lazio manager Delio Rossi tried to make a few changes to give his team the spark it desperately needed (off Stefano Mauri and Christian Manfredini, in Massimo Mutarelli and Simone Del Nero), but not before Olympiakos attempted to earn the double with Christos Patsatzoglou, author of a vicious shot that Balletta had some trouble saving.

Luciano Zauri celebrates the equalizer for LazioThe jump-start for the Biancocelesti actually never arrived from the subs, but Lazio managed nonetheless to pull level shortly after. A nicely delivered through ball found Luciano Zauri on the edge of the box (probably in offside position as replays showed), and the left-back managed to invent a low shot whose trajectory surprised Antonios Nikopolidis on the 1st post. 1-1.

Rossi’s men actually even had the chance to steal the win late into the half, as first Pandev, then Rocchi found themselves within close-range of the Greek keeper, but Nikopolidis pulled some great reflex saves to salvage at least a point for Olympiakos. Lazio will take what they can get, and 1 point on Greek soil seems like a good deal.

 Olympiacos CFP
S.S. Lazio
GOALSCORERS: 55’ Galletti (O), 77’ Zauri (L)
OLYMPIAKOS (4-3-2-1): Nikopolidis – Patsatzoglou (85’ Kovacevic), Antzas, Zewlakow, Domi – Torossidis, Ledesma, Stoltidis – Galletti, Djordjevic – Lua Lua. (bench: Sifakis, Cesar, Nunez, Raúl Bravo, Ne, Konstantinou). Coach: Lemonis.
LAZIO (4-3-1-2): Ballotta – De Silvestri (80’ Scaloni), Stendardo, Cribari, Zauri – Mudingayi, Ledesma, Manfredini (69’ Del Nero) – Mauri (60’ Mutarelli) – Rocchi, Pandev. (bench: Muslera, Kolarov, Tare, Makinwa). Coach: Rossi.


Posted in Lazio, Milan, UEFA Champions League |

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  • 2 Responses to “Champions League day 1 – Milan turn on the style and Lazio hit a rock in Greece”

    1. Joe Ginto says:

      Lazio is really disappointing. I had hoped for better things but they just don’t seem capable at the moment and have to be the favorite of all the Italian teams to be bounced out during the group phase. Delio Rossi looked like he really turned them around at the end of last year but they seem to have lost their way.

      Fantastic recap of both matches.

    2. I think it’s a roster problem Joe, they just don’t have the weight. There isn’t any real star in their team, which is really not surprising since they’re only 12th in the Serie A player salary rankings. Their highest paid player (Roberto Baronio) earns ‘only’ €0.75m.

      It’s going to be really tough for them, also considering who they’re facing in the group (Real and Werder).