The all-Italian tie between Milan and Napoli saw the hosts pick up the win in the first leg. Just 10 days after thrashing Napoli in Naples, 4-0, Milan again defeated the likely Serie A champions. This time, it was in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.
While the scoreboard shows a triumph for Napoli, the key was the defensive effort from Stefano Pioli’s side. Another shutout against one of the high-flying teams in Europe is an achievement on its own.
Early chances in the first half
It was Napoli on the road who put together the better of the two chances early on. Kvicha Kvaratskhelia had a golden opportunity inside the first minute. A quick attack from Napoli on the righthand side led to the ball falling at the Georgian’s feet inside the six-yard box. His shot, though, met two Milan defenders, who prevented the ball from hitting the back of the net.
Rafael Leao had a terrific opportunity after 25 minutes for Milan. The Portuguese picked the ball up inside his own half and dribbled beyond three Napoli defenders. In a quick two-on-one, Leao created the space and went for goal. However, he dragged the left-footed shot narrowly wide of the post, meeting collective moans bellowing in from around San Siro.
Milan would eventually grab the advantage with one of those rapid counterattacks. Brahim Diaz picked the ball up in the middle of the park and made a fantastic turn to escape two Napoli defenders. Diaz progressed with teammates on either side of him and in front. Diaz played the ball out to the right, only for Rafael Leao to put it back into the middle. It eventually fell to Ismaël Bennacer, who powered the ball past Alex Meret in the Napoli net. It was Bennacer’s first Champions League goal.
In first-half stoppage time, Milan almost doubled its advantage on a corner. Simon Kjær rattled the crossbar on a thunderous header from six yards out. However, the ball slammed off the woodwork and away, and Napoli was able to clear out the danger.
Red card seals first leg between Napoli and Milan
In the second half, Napoli looked likely to score. Kvaratskhelia had some marauding forays forward, but the best opportunity came on one of the Georgian’s crosses. He lobbed a ball up where Elif Elmas, the replacement for an injured Victor Osimhen, headed the ball on goal. Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan deflected the ball onto the crossbar, and it went out for a corner.
Twenty-five minutes after the attempt, Napoli’s chances of a comeback in the game took a massive hit. André-Frank Zambo Anguissa picked up a yellow card in the 70th minute for a mistimed challenge. Just four minutes later, Anguissa committed another silly challenge, good enough for a second yellow card and a dismissal.
To make matters worse, Napoli centerback Kim Min-jae picked up a yellow card. Based on accumulation, the South Korean misses the return leg at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in a week’s time.
Late on, Napoli had two fantastic opportunities to equalize, both from headers. The first required a reactionary save from Mike Maignan to deny Giovanni di Lorenzo. After the ensuing corner, di Lorenzo whipped a ball in, where Mathías Olivera nodded the ball just over the Milan net.
Milan must protect that lead on Tuesday, April 18, in Naples. At home in the Champions League, Napoli has been a force. The side has four wins in four games in this campaign, with a combined score of 14-3 over those four games.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Gribaudi/ImagePhoto
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