Despite winning the first leg 2-0, AC Milan were clinically dispatched by Barca in last night’s Champions League outing, says Dylan Fahy
Just as black smoke poured from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel last night – signalling that Roman Catholic cardinals had failed to elect a new pope on the first ballot – AC Milan’s return to the heights of European football also proved to be a false dawn, to a lesser extent. Barcelona clinically dispatched their Champions League opponents 4-0 (4-2 on aggregate) to advance to the quarter-finals.
“Milan have defeated the Aliens,” screamed Gazzetta dello Sport’s headline in the aftermath of the Rossoneri’s victory over the Catalan giants in the first leg at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. Corriere dello Sport went further still and claimed the Italian outfit were in fact “the Martians” now. Superb strikes from Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari had genuinely inspired hope in Massimiliano Allegri’s men.
Lionel Messi’s first ever goal from open-play against Italian opposition and his second fastest in the Champions League hastily quieted the visitors’ 5,000 faithful at the Camp Nou. The Argentine forward could not muster a shot on target in the previous outing, but he sealed his brace with yet another classy strike at the half-way point. David Villa’s curling effort after the interval all but sealed Milan’s fate, while Jordi Alba slotted home in stoppage time to secure their passage to the next round.
A mixture of inexperience, lack of maturity and key tactical decisions ultimately made it impossible for the Rossoneri to hold onto their 2-0 lead in the return leg. With a significant portion of the squad making their debut in the competition this season, particularly M’Baye Niang – the 18-year-old striker who hit the post before Messi’s controversial second goal. Allegri’s choice to pick Kevin Constant at left-back over the ever-dependable youngster Mattia De Sciglio also proved decisive.
“This experience will serve us in the future,” asserted Allegri in his post-match interview with Sky Italia. Mathieu Flamini also admitted the team was “nervous” in the anticipation of the match, confirming their supporters’ greatest fear. Milan fans will be proud of their club in spite of the final results; they showed a collective spirit and quality to recover from their domestic disaster from the beginning of the campaign.
Barcelona have played three games during Papal conclaves and won all three 4-0. Perhaps the divine signs were there ahead of the outing, despite the joy that the first match brought to the side, but Milan can only focus on Serie A and securing that coveted third spot to return to the Champions League next term. “Messi and Barcelona are really from another planet,” admitted Gazzetta dello Sport through gritted teeth.