After defeating the standout Italian leaders in the first leg, Milan looked to advance past Napoli to reach the Champions League semifinals for the first time since 2007. In that year, Milan won the Champions League.
Napoli has been near unstoppable in both Serie A and Europe this season. However, if any team has had Napoli’s number, it is Milan. I Rossoneri defeated Napoli in the first leg and went to Naples to win in the league, 4-0. Although Milan did not win on the night, it did enough to advance.
A 1-1 draw at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium was enough to get Milan through to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.
Leao bosses the first half
In the first 45 minutes, both sides had chances. Most of those fell to Napoli, with the hosts blitzing Milan out of the gate. None of Napoli’s chances, though, were exceptional. Many fairly tame shots rolled in from Kvicha Kvaratskhelia or the Napoli midfield. On each occasion, Mike Maignan dealt with any attempt.
The first great opportunity game just after 20 minutes. A reckless challenge in his own area by Napoli defender Mario Rui on Milan forward Rafael Leao yielded a penalty. While Leao underwent brief medical attention, Olivier Giroud stepped up to the penalty spot. However, France’s all-time leading scorer sent a tame effort towards Alex Meret, who cast the shot aside. Then, six minutes later, Meret again got the better of Giroud. The Frenchman was in practically alone, but the trailing leg of the goalkeeper blocked Giroud’s attempt.
Rafael Leao propper up Milan to a lead with a phenomenal run in the closing stages of the first half. After Tanguy Ndombele lost the ball, a one-man counterattack beat four Napoli defenders. Leao picked up the ball 30 yards from his own goal. He dribbled forward through the Napoli defense. Once he found himself in Napoli’s penalty box, he squared the ball to Giroud, who finally got his goal.
Defensively, Leao had his handprints on the game, too. A sliding challenge on Hirving Lozano denied the Mexican a goalscoring opportunity. Despite claims for a penalty, the Polish referee correctly deemed the Portuguese got to the ball before making any contact with Lozano.
Milan withstand Napoli pressure to advance in Champions League
In the second half, Milan sat back. It welcomed Napoli’s forays forward, and Napoli could not take advantage for the first 20 minutes after the restart. Kvaratskhelia lifted two shots over Maignan’s crossbar, as did Hirving Lozano. Milan took its time, taking Napoli’s fiery pace out of the game when it could.
Clear headers from several Napoli players failed to test Maignan. Then, Napoli had a major opportunity. A handball from Fikayo Tomori inside his own area yielded a penalty for the hosts. However, just like Meret saved a penalty at that end of the field, Maignan stopped Kvaratskhelia, keeping the two-goal lead on aggregate.
Napoli did eventually score in the tie. The only problem was that Victor Osimhen, back from injury just for this tie, scored in the 92nd minute. Napoli only had one more attempt going forward, but lost the ball to a goal kick, and time expired.
Now, Milan will play the winner of the other tie in its bracket. With a lead after the first leg against Benfica, Inter Milan could set up a Derby della Madonnia in the Champions League semifinals. Last time that happened was in 2003.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Antonio Balasco
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