Somewhere in London last evening, Andriy Shevchenko would have been watching with disbelief as the side he left behind last season failed to convert a stellar performance into a telling victory. And AC Milan will, at the end of this season, rue the fact that they didn’t use the money they made on the Sheva deal to get a striker who would have made a difference to their season. That failure alone explains the gulf in points between the Milanese sides, and should be the one reason why the Champions League trophy might not head to Italy.
Milan started the first leg of Champions League quarterfinal against Bayern Munich in a fashion we haven’t seen them play. It was almost as if Carlo Ancelotti thought he had to compensate for the absence of Barcelona and Arsenal, and his side were playing free-flowing football, the kind that is pleasing to the eye. Jankulowski was excellent in the first half, what with searching runs down the left flank, and at one point produced an excellent cross which Seedorf should have tapped in. Oddo, though not as menacing, was a threat down the right wing.
The night witnessed the rise of Michael Rensing’s star. Oliver Kahn’s understudy proved why he would eventually replace his suspended captain at both club and country level. His two splendid saves from close range were Bayern’s best moments of the first half. Their forwards were mostly anonymous, and couldn’t get past Gattuso, let alone the pairing of Nesta and Maldini. The statistics would show that the Bavarian outfit had more shots on and off goal during the first half, but most of those were hopeful drives.
Then, a moment of brilliance from Kaka. The Brazilian juggled his way into the box and was brought down by his countryman Lucio. No penalty, and wisely so — Lucio had had a touch on the ball before felling Kaka. It was an excellent footballing moment — great attacking play, spot-on defending, and a perfect decision by the referee. That moment would repeat itself in the second half, only then the referee would turn villain for the Germans.
Wave after wave of Milan attack somehow remained fruitless (largely through the efforts of Gilardino), and just as it seemed when the home side would have to contend without scoring, Andrea Pirlo made use of some confusion in the German defence and placed a neat header above Rensing and in the back of the net. An unlikely goalscorer, a deserving lead.
Milan looked the more purposeful side at the start of the second half. The passionate supporters of the Rossoneri were witnessing the kind of performance that catapulted their country to World Cup glory last year. Bayern needed all their doggedness just to hang on, and it was Owen Hargreaves who had to turn enforcer for the team from Munich. For a good period in the second half, the Englishman seemed the best Bayern player on view.
Gilardino, still struggling for form, drew a yellow card for disregarding a whistle for off-side — a contentious decision, given that there are at least a few thousand people strutting their whistles at any point in time at the San Siro. He will miss the return leg, but his form on the night means that the Russian official was being kind in relieving him of further misery.
The introduction of Inzaghi didn’t change things a lot, but one could perceive that the Italians were becoming less inclined to attack. And then van Buyten struck! The home team paid for some slack defending and the tall defender (who reminds you of Nathan Bracken) crashed the ball past Dida. Another unlikely goalscorer.
Before the game started, the team from Bavaria had complained against Russian official who was standing in his first European game. Fifteen minutes to go, and he had acquitted himself rather well, and the Germans would have had no reason to complain. But that wasn’t to be. Another superb run by Kaka, another clearance by Lucio, but this time the official deemed that Kaka had been brought down. Their protests in vain, Bayern had to contend with Kaka slotting home a cool penalty. 2-1. Lead restored.
Milan’s overall play and dominance would have justified a 2-1 result, but they paid for not holding on to the ball in the closing minutes. Possession football is staple food for Italian sides. Milan ignored it, and Bayern just had too much of the ball in second-half injury time. van Buyten, just in front of Dida, found himself with a free ball and equalised for the second time, his shot being the last touch of the game.
An away draw is valuable in two-legged ties, but the two away goals that Bayern will take home might prove invaluable. AC Milan can progress still; they just need to keep playing the flowing football that was such a joy to watch, but more importantly, they must convert their chances. However, Gilardino is suspended. Ronaldo cannot play. Oliviera who? Inzaghi isn’t fully fit. How they would have loved to have Shevchenko!
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