We’re deep into the depression era at AC Milan: three consecutive draws in Serie A… then the first defeat at the hands of Palermo… and then another draw vs. Catania this week-end… the only competition which remained without blemishes for the Rossoneri was the Champions League. After tonight’s defeat vs. Celtic, another milestone has been reached: Milan is officially the richest team in the poorest of forms right now.
Meanwhile, Lazio were hosting Liga title holders Real Madrid at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, and managed to come back twice from behind after the Merengues goals scored by Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The hero of the night for the Biancocelesti was Macedonian striker Goran Pandev, who after ballooning an unmissable chance in the first period, redeemed himself in great style with 2 great goals: a stunning left-footed volley below the bar, and an accurate low shot into the bottom corner.
You almost wouldn’t believe it if you read it, but Real Madrid can consider themselves lucky to be coming out of the Stadio Olimpico with 1 point. The Biancocelesti fought their heart out to come back from behind tonight, and with a little more accuracy in the end zone could have even walked home with a victory. For lessons in finishing just ask Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who transformed into goals the only two chances that he obtained during the match.
For Delio Rossi‘s men, this was somewhat of an emotional match because it was Lazio’s first European home game at the Stadio Olimpico this season, and the visitors were none other than Liga champions and juggernaughts Real Madrid. The Lazio coach had decided to leave week-end hero Aleksandar Kolarov out of the starters for this match, and fielded Guglielmo Stendardo in his place. The Biancocelesti attacking trio was formed by Stefano Mauri supporting lone strikers Rocchi-Pandev. On the other end, Bernd Schuster responded by putting his faith in Raúl (back to his early-2001-top-form as of late) and goal-machine Van Nistelrooy. The ‘Dutch wingmen’ Sneijder-Robben duo completed the offensive options for the Merengues.
The game immediately started on an uphill slope for Lazio, following a pretty big defensive mistake at the 9′ minute mark: a long free-kick by Sneijder eventually landed to the feet of Van Nistelrooy (completely unmarked) who just had to apply the easy finish from short range. On the occasion, Lazio captain Luciano Zauri was somewhat at fault for allowing the cross to filter through too easily. At this point however, when one would have expected the 1-0 lead to inspire confidence in Schuster’s men, it had the opposite effect: it was the Biancocelesti who progressively grew stronger as the Real players committed the deadly sin of overconfidence.
Standing out of the lot for Lazio in the following minutes: Goran Pandev, for good and for bad. First, the Macedonian striker was stopped in extremis by Mahamadou Diarra, then in the 31th missed the unmissable: through on goal in front of Casillas, his right foot (not his best) sent the ball over the bar from a perfect position. Unbelievable stuff. Fortunately for the Lazio fans, Pandev’s left-foot’s a whole other story: from a great forward cross of Zauri, the Lazio striker exploited a perfect Stendardo header lay-up to slam the ball below the bar on the volley! Terrible defensive marking by the Real players on that occasion, it must be said, but 1-1 nonetheless. The remaining minutes of the first period had little more to tell, except for a hard Robben shot that keeper Marco Ballotta had no trouble saving.
In the 2nd half, more hair-pulling stuff for the Lazio fans in the 53rd and 57th minutes of play: first a great through ball for Stefano Mauri was completely wasted as the Italian midfielder sent a weak shot straight at Iker Casillas. Then, it was the turn of Tommaso Rocchi to blow another one-on-one chance on the left by sending the ball into the side-netting! “But raté, but encaissé” as I often cite from the French: 4 minutes after Rocchi’s miss Ruud Van Nistelrooy was sent clear on goal. The Dutch striker usually doesn’t need too many of these chances to deliver the goods: one fake-shot to put Ballotta on his ass, followed by a chipped shot into the net. A 2-1 ice-cold cocktail for Real, comin’ up.
Thankfully, just like they did after their first goal the Blancos slowed down the rhythm, allowing Gaby Mudingayi to steal the ball, and serve Pandev on the right: the striker advanced on goal, produced a few fakes to elude Heinze and Cannavaro, and sent a low shot into the bottom left corner from the edge of the box. 2-2. All things considered, a pretty good result for the Biancocelesti.
|GOALSCORERS: 8′ Van Nisterlooy (R), 32′ Pandev (L), 61’ Van Nisterlooy (R), 75’ Pandev (L)|
|LAZIO (4-3-1-2): Ballotta – Behrami (66’ Scaloni), Stendardo, Cribari, Zauri – Mudingayi, Ledesma, Mutarelli – Mauri (78’ Del Nero) – Rocchi (66’ Makinwa), Pandev. (bench: Muslera, Kolarov, Meghni, Manfredini). Coach: D.Rossi.|
|REAL MADRID (4-2-2-2): Casillas – Sergio Ramos, F.Cannavaro, Heinze, Marcelo – M.Diarra, Guti – Sneijder (88’ Drenthe), Robben (78’ Higuain) – Raúl (83’ Saviola), Van Nisterlooy. (bench: Dudek, M.Salgado, Gago, J.Baptista). Coach: Schuster.|
To cite Gaetano Di Stefano from Gazzetta dello Sport, the McDonald’s menu of Celtic Park will create a big indigestion to the Milan fans. Conceding the victory goal (for Celtic) in the 90th minute outlines a very obvious problem for the Rossoneri: they are not only unable to finalize the plays they create, but their attention invariably lets go in the most crucial moments of the match. Dida‘s incident with a Celtic fan after the goal (see below) does little to change that fact.
Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti had no surprises in store regarding his starting line-up: the usual 4-3-2-1 Xmas tree formation had just Daniele Bonera in for injured Paolo Maldini. On the other end, Gordon Strachan fielded a 4-5-1 with Scott McDonald as the lone striker (no Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink this time) and Jiri Jarosik pushing up to support him. Shunsuke Nakamura had a few injury problems and was kept on the bench as a precaution.
The first period had little to propose in terms of entertainement: with the Scottish team executing an heavy pressure in midfield (because they knew full well the talent pool they had against them), and the incessant rain falling down from the Glasgow skies, this match turned very rapidly into a stalemate. The 5 midfielder formation adopted by Strachan worked very well in blocking any winger incursions from Oddo and Jankulovski, which effectively forced the Rossoneri to send most of their balls through the center (the usually deadly Kakà-Pirlo-Seedorf axis). The Brazilian star managed to set off a few of his shots, but they turned out to be of little danger to Celtic keeper Artur Boruc. What of Inzaghi? Lost among the asphyxiating clutches of his man-marking Hoop ‘friends’. The half ended with an unsurprising 0-0 scoreline.
In the 2nd period, the match was almost back with a bang: a great build-up by Milan to set up Massimo Oddo on the right, followed by a cross for Pippo Inzaghi. However the diving header of the Milan striker was wide. Following that small highlight the game went back to the 1st-half deadlock, but it must be said that the Rossoneri were being a lot more incisive, thanks partially to the substitution of Clarence Seedorf (bad night for him) for Yoann Gourcuff. The French youngster however, despite the good contribution in offense, was at the heart of a monstrous defensive mistake leading to the match opener, when following a corner-kick for Celtic in the 18th he left Hoop captain Stephen McManus completely unmarked in the 2nd post, . It also didn’t help that Dida had tried to intercept the cross but completely missed the ball, leaving an empty net. 1-0 Celtic.
The pride reaction of the Rossoneri didn’t take long to arrive: a 30m free kick for Pirlo bounced right in front of the Celtic keeper, who somehow managed to keep the ball out of the net, get this, with his head! Minutes later though, Milan were level, thanks to a generous contribution of referee Markus Merk. Massimo Ambrosini got his shirt tugged in the box (replays showed contact was minimal) and the ref pointed to the spot. Kaká did the honours to bring the score back to a tie. 1-1.
It just wasn’t Milan night though (once again!), because in the last minute of regular time a shot by Gary Caldwell was parried by Dida, but only as far as Scott McDonald: the Aussie striker had little trouble for the easy finish, giving Hoops the victory 2-1. Key contribution in the play was the dribbling and passing moves of Japanese substitute Shunsuke Nakamura.
The game ended on a sour note though, as Dida got hit in the head by an invading Celtic fan who had stormed the pitch, and had to be stretchered off. The blow was nowhere near as serious as the Milan keeper made everyone to believe (as replays showed), but that is beside the point. General manager Adriano Galliani declared after the match they would not be appealing the score of the game but honestly, this kind of stuff is very likely to get your home club a stadium ban, as well as a 0-3 default loss. Considering all the hard work Celtic did to get the 3 points, it would be a real shame to see it nullified by such idiotic behaviour. As for Milan playing poorly and seemingly having forgotten what it takes to win a match, that’s a whole other story.
|GOALSCORERS: 62′ McManus (C), 68’ pen. Kakà (M), 90’ McDonald (C).|
|CELTIC (4-4-1-1): Boruc – Doumbé (80’ Kennedy), Caldwell, McManus, Naylor – McGeady (84’ Nakamura), Hartley, Donati, Jarosik (84’ Killen) – S.Brown – McDonald. (bench: M.Brown, Riordan, Sno, O’Dea). Coach: Strachan.|
|MILAN (4-3-2-1): Dida (92’ Kalac) – Oddo, Bonera, Nesta, Jankulovski – Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini – Seedorf (55’ Gourcuff), Kakà – F.Inzaghi (76’ Gilardino). (bench: Cafu, Simic, Favalli, Brocchi, Emerson). Coach: Ancelotti.|