AC Milan optimistic after stopping Barcelona

AC Milan optimistic after stopping Barcelona

MILAN - Reuters
AC Milan optimistic after stopping Barcelona

AC Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini (R) challenges Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets during the Champions League quarterfinals first-leg game at San Siro.

After successfully frustrating Lionel Messi and Barcelona, AC Milan believes it can oust the titleholders in the second leg of the two teams’ Champions League quarterfinal at the Nou Camp next week. 

Messi was harried, hounded and pushed by the Milan defenders who often used a rotation system, where defenders take it in turns to give away free kicks, to bring his trademark runs at the heart of their defense to an abrupt end. 

Despite playing at home and managing only 38 percent of possession, coach Massimiliano Allegri was delighted with the 0-0 draw and, above all, the commitment of his side. 

“I’ve always said that I’m lucky enough to train a great group of professionals and even the players who aren’t on the pitch, even the ones who watch from the stands, they’re always ready when they’re called upon,” he said. 

Midfielder Massimo Ambrosini, standing in for the intimidating Mark van Bommel in midfield, Luca Antonini and 36-year-old Alessandro Nesta, who replaced the injured Thiago Silva at the heart of the defense, were excellent as Milan, seven-time European champions, held firm. 

Nesta seemed happy to accept a yellow card as the price for ending one of Messi’s runs and Milan believes it can sneak an away goal next week. 

“This draw should give us trust and courage,” said Ambrosini. “There was the right spirit tonight, before, during and after the match. We have to be honest, we’re facing a team that has defined their era of football but we’ll go there and play.” 

Ambrosini himself was showered with praise by his teammates. 

“Ambrosini was a real gladiator, he fought for every ball both in defense and attack,” said Antonini, who had a journeyman career. 

“I saved a goal from Alexis Sanchez as I had the timing and the reflexes to slide in on time and take the ball away from him. It was a bit of skill and a bit of luck. 

“We faced them on equal terms and that gives us the strength to go to the Nou Camp and play for a place in the semi-finals.” 

When Barcelona did get through, it was foiled by Christian Abbiati who pulled off several outstanding saves in the Milan goal. 

Messi also had to struggle with a dreadful San Siro pitch, at one point slipping as he went to take a free kick. His frustration appeared to boil over with an uncharacteristic late tackle on Clarence Seedorf, for which he was lucky to escape a yellow card.