In a match that was played one week early (due to the Rossoneri’s upcoming FIFA Club World Cup commitments), Milan capped the Group Stage of their Champions League campaign with a victory, 3 points which give Carlo Ancelotti’s team the first spot in the Group D rankings. The one who’ll be doing the most of the celebrating however is Pippo Inzaghi, author of European goal nº63 tonight, thus overtaking Gerd Müller in the all-time topscoring charts. However to be quite honest, other than Inzaghi’s career-spotlight goal, there wasn’t much entertainment to be seen tonight at the San Siro.
Tactically, Ancelotti kept all the promises he made to the press the day before: usual starters in midfield, back-up players in defense. As a result, Nelson Dida left his place to Zeljko Kalac in goal, while the back-line was composed of Cafu, Daniele Bonera, Dario Simic, and Giuseppe Favalli. Inzaghi started up instead of Gilardino up front. Meanwhile, Gordon Strachan decided to play with only one striker as well, but contrary to expectations it wasn’t Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink (I just love writing that name in full) but Scott McDonald instead. The Scot’s choice to give up one striker and field a 5-man midfield left little doubt on Strachan’s intentions for this match: beat the Italians at their own game, the ‘catenaccio’.
Unsurprisingly, the 1st half was a rather drab spectacle to watch: Celtic forming a thick defensive line both in midfield and defense, and Milan trying (albeit not very hard) to maximize on their dominant ball possession and find space where they could. A draw would mathematically send the Bhoys through, regardless of the result of Shakhtar-Benfica… hence the little motivation to take any major risks. So, the result of all this? A few accelerations by Kaká (who at the start of the match, unveiled his newly-acquired Golden Ball award to the San Siro faithful), a mid-range shot by Seedorf, an effort by Inzaghi on Favalli’s cross. Not much in other words, except the annoying injury to Simic in the first half hour of play, which forced the Croatian defender to be replaced by Kaladze.
In the 2nd half, the script of the match didn’t change much. In a nutshell: lights, motor, action, Milan get the ball, Celtic defend. And cut! Boring huh? Want more details? Basically Strachan’s instructions to his players were “preserve the draw” and “relentlessly man-mark whichever Milan player has the ball”. On their end, the Rossoneri weren’t trying too hard either, except Gennaro Gattuso who at times seemed he was still playing with Rangers against their sworn enemy Celtic.
65 minutes in, the Hoops boss tried to revitalize his attack by inserting Vennegoor for McDonald, while Ancelotti put in Yoann Gourcuff to give Clarence Seedorf a rest. That effctively changed the Rossoneri line-up to a more wing-balanced 4-4-2 formation (Kaká playing as a second striker almost), and what do you know? Thereby came the goal: Kaká served a penetrating ball on the right for Cafu, the Brazilian wing-back went to the goal-line and passed it back for Pippo Inzaghi, all alone in front of goal. Needless to say, that meant 1-0 for Milan.
For Inzagol, that was goal nº63 in his European career, one more than the previous goalscorer Gerd Müller. The Milan par-taay could have been complete if only they had doubled the score in the dying minutes, after Kaká exploited a counter-attack to get through on the left wing, dribble the last line of defense (including the keeper), and set himself up for an open-net finish. His close-range shot however found the foot of defender Evander Sno, and got cleared away. Too bad for Kaká, but in the end it didn’t matter much: as the ref called full time, Milan were 1st in the group, while Benfica’s 2-1 away win to Shakhtar Donetsk also sent Celtic through to the next round. The Portuguese team will play the UEFA Cup.
|GOALSCORERS: 70’ F.Inzaghi (M)|
|MILAN (4-3-2-1): Kalac – Cafu, Simic (30’ Kaladze), Bonera, Favalli – Gattuso, Pirlo (74’ Brocchi), Ambrosini – Kaká, Seedorf (69’ Gourcuff) – F.Inzaghi. (bench: Fiori, Oddo, W. Aubameyang, Gilardino). Coach: Ancelotti.|
|CELTIC (4-1-4-1): Boruc – Caldwell, Pressley, McManus, O’Dea – Hartley – McGeady, S.Brown, Donati (71’ Sno), Jarosik (78’ Zurawski) – McDonald (65’ Vennegoor of Hesselink). (bench: M.Brown, Baldé, Killen, Caddis.). Coach: Strachan.|