“Milan in paradise!” screamed La Gazzetta dello Sport’s front-page at fulltime at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza as the home supporters let out a collective roar.
Strikes from Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari handed the Italian club a historic victory at the hands of fellow European heavyweights Barcelona in their last-16 Champions League tie. On an unforgettable night for the Rossoneri, they “dominated” a thoroughly lacklustre Spanish side according to the pink paper.
Milan’s Curva Sud held up a banner declaring, “we are history” in the pre-match build-up, and the team duly delivered a performance worthy of the club’s greatest teams down the years. In spite of their struggles since losing prized assets such as Zlatan Ibrahimović, Antonio Cassano and Thiago Silva during the summer, the current batch grouped together to display remarkable character and strength. “They are living the dream,” ran Mediaset as the players celebrated the win.
Barcelona were consistently referred to as aliens by the Italian press leading into Wednesday night’s showdown. “Milan are the Martians now,” asserted Corriere dello Sport’s headline. “Demonstrating complete concentration they taught them a lesson.” The Rossoneri ran out with unsubstantial 27 per cent possession, but they limited their opponents to a single shot on target throughout the 90 minutes by executing manager Massimiliano Allegri’s game plan to perfection.
Allegri has completely turned his situation around at Milan since the beginning of the campaign. President Silvio Berlusconi was quoted as saying the tactician “did not know shit” in local dialect last week - which he later defended as a slip of the tongue. However, the transformation the former Catania boss has orchestrated since early November has been nothing short of remarkable.
“You should be proud,” proclaimed Sky Sports Italia in the aftermath of the win when interviewing Allegri. “Not bad for someone who does not know shit,” joked Gazzetta the next day. Juventus manager Antonio Conte claimed his bitter rivals are back in the title race during the week. In fact, if the Serie A season had started on October 27 the Rossoneri would be top of the table with a one-point lead over the Bianconeri.
Several players such as Giampaolo Pazzini, Riccardo Montolivo and Kévin Constant put in relentless amounts of effort for Milan. Pazzini in particular has been shunted aside since the arrival of Mario Balotelli in January, but given the former Manchester City man was cup-tied he was given his chance on the biggest stage. His clash with Carles Puyol signified the collective wiliness to win, also shown by Stephan El Shaarawy and Boatengs’ tireless tracking-back.
Not everybody was tested, however, as Gazzetta did not even give goalkeeper Cristian Abbiati a rating out of 10 in the “report cards” section as he was judged to have had an easy time of it on the night.
Lionel Messi was kept quiet by imperious performances from the generally unreliable Milan central defensive partnership of Philippe Mexès and Cristian Zapata. Gazzetta cartoonist Valerio Marini depicted a frustrated version of the Argentine forward with his shirt name reading “missing” in place of Messi. Rossoneri Vice-President Adriano Galliani claimed the Barcelona man was the best player in the world ahead of the match, but in the end he was reduced to a single touch in the home side’s box.
“It is only half-time,” warned Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini. The Italian side will be confident they can stall Barcelona at the Camp Nou, but they are already expecting another barrage of attacks. It remains to be seen if they can pull of yet another historic victory.