Milan (AFP) – Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up two first-half goals before being sent off after an hour as 10-man AC Milan beat Parma 3-1 on Saturday to boost their Champions League hopes.
The 39-year-old Swede was given a straight red card for arguing with the referee at the Stadio Ennio Tardini when his team were two goals ahead.
Riccardo Gagliolo pulled one back for 19th-placed Parma minutes after Ibrahimovic’s sending off, but Milan held on despite some late scares, with substitute Rafael Leao scoring a third in injury time.
Second-placed Milan closed the gap to leaders Inter, who host 18th-placed Cagliari on Sunday, to eight points.
Stefano Pioli’s Milan are pushing for a return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2013-2014 season.
Struggling defending champions Juventus are four points behind Milan in third before hosting Genoa on Sunday, when fourth-placed Atalanta, who are a further point adrift, play at Fiorentina.
“It was important to win,” said Pioli. “Ibra told me he didn’t insult the referee.
“He told me he had a discussion which lasted some time, but he hadn’t shown a lack of respect and absolutely did not insult him.
“He told me the last thing he said to (referee Fabio) Maresca was: ‘So you don’t care what I say?'”.
Parma goalkeeper Luigi Sepe denied Franck Kessie early on before Ibrahimovic sent the ball through for Ante Rebic, who spun and blasted in the ninth-minute opener.
Ibrahimovic then combined with Theo Hernandez and teed up Kessie to drill in the second just before the break.
Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma did well to save an Andrea Conti header and Graziano Pelle’s follow-up five minutes into the second half.
But Ibrahimovic was given his marching orders for a comment to the referee over a midfield incident in which he wasn’t involved.
Gagliolo gave Parma a lifeline, beating Donnarumma, who made some crucial late saves before Leao added a third as Milan claimed a club record 13 away wins this campaign.
– Ibrahimovic ‘close’ to new deal –
Milan are set to be without Ibrahimovic for their next two games at home against Genoa and Sassuolo as Pioli’s men bid for a first win at the San Siro in over two months.
Ibrahimovic, who won his 300th match in the top five European Leagues on Saturday, will return for the trip to top-four rivals Lazio on April 26.
Before the match, club director Paolo Maldini confirmed that Ibrahimovic was close to renewing his contract for another season.
The Swedish international, who turns 40 in October, has been credited with turning Milan into title contenders again since his return to the seven-time European champions in January last year.
“For Ibrahimovic there are only small details missing, we are very close to renewal,” Maldini said.
Ibrahimovic, who helped Milan to their last Scudetto in 2011, is the club’s top scorer with 15 goals in 17 league games this term despite struggling with injury and illness.
Contract talks with Donnarumma are less advanced.
“It takes two to make a deal,” Maldini said of the 22-year-old Italy international.
Pioli said after the game he was hoping to convince Donnarumma to commit to the club.
“My advice to Donnarumma is to stay, because Milan is a top club in all respects. We are building something.
“My players are not yet winners, but they are fighting to win again.”
In the battle against relegation, Torino ended their four-match winless run with captain Andrea Belotti converting a penalty after an Tolgay Arslan foul in a 1-0 win over 12th-placed Udinese who fell to a third consecutive defeat.
“The attitude must be what we saw both today and against Juve,” said Belotti, whose side held the champions 2-2 last weekend, and are now five points clear of the drop zone.
Spezia, in 14th position, struck twice in three-minutes before the final whistle for a 3-2 win to deny basement club Crotone.
Martin Erlic set up Giulio Maggiore to pull Spezia level after 89 minutes with the Croatian defender then nodding in an injury time winner.
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