Ronaldinho takes the wind out of Pompey sails

Portsmouth 2 Milan 2
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The Independent Football

It is a measure of how far Portsmouth have come that there were tears in the old port when they could only draw with seven-times European Cup-winners Milan at Fratton Park last night.

A remarkable evening reached its apogee for the home support when they were able to belt out "Are you watching Southampton?" in the belief that their team were on the brink of a result which would stun Europe.

Portsmouth led 2-0 courtesy of goals by Younes Kaboul, his first for the club, and, on his first start since scoring the FA Cup final winner, Kanu. Most Saints fans would have already turned off but if any kept watching they were rewarded as Ronaldinho came on to halve the deficit with seven minutes left. Then Filippo Inzaghi, who had missed an array of chances, was gifted an injury-time opportunity. He took it to ruin Pompey's big night and jeopardise their prospects of Uefa Cup progress. They may now need to defeat both Wolfsburg, away, and Heerenveen.

"I'm not disappointed," insisted Tony Adams, the Pompey manager. "The lads are deflated but it's my job to be upbeat and I'm really proud of their performance. They played really well."

Portsmouth, nevertheless, should have closed out the game. "You don't normally come back from two-nil down," admitted a relieved Carlo Ancelotti, his Milan counterpart.

This improbable fixture, unthinkable even a few years ago, retained its impact despite being denuded of several stars, on the home side as well as among the visitors

Portsmouth were without Sol Campbell, Jermain Defoe, Niko Kranjcar and Lassana Diarra which meant a rare inclusion for Richard Hughes, their half-Italian Scotland international midfielder, a Milan fan who has been appraising team-mates of the opposition's strengths and weaknesses. Not that many will need telling about Kaka who, with Gennaro Gattuso, was one of only two players retained from the XI which started the weekend draw with Torino. The much-changed side was not, however, a weak one. Seven had Champions League winners' medals, three were in Italy's 2006 World Cup winning squad.

Inzaghi came into both categories which made the space Portsmouth granted him unforgivable. Three times in the first half he escaped markers. He skewed a shot against the post after Andrei Shevchenko's free-kick broke through the Portsmouth wall. The Italian, who spends matches prowling the back-line, then chipped on to the bar after Kaboul sliced a clearance. A miscued overhead kick, and an alert clearance by Nadir Belhadj, put paid to his third chance.

If he could have had a first-half hat-trick, so might have the other No 9, Peter Crouch, albeit from harder chances. Crouch miscued a volley, attempted to send a header across goal when he should have tried to score, was wayward with an overhead kick and put another header, from Glen Johnson's cross, wide. That he had so many chances was a result of impressive work by Johnson on the right and the combination of Belhadj and Armand Traoré on the left.

Milan, playing narrower, were more dominant in the centre. Kaka had been quiet. Perhaps experiencing the poky dressing rooms had left him pondering anew his desire to play in the Premier League. He should have been impressed by the atmosphere. This was Fratton Park as it was when Pompey first got promoted in 2003. The cockpit-like ground means 20,000 can make a rare noise and there was an explosion of sound to match anything produced by the warships at the nearby Dockyard after 62 minutes.

A free-kick awarded for a foul on Johnson was half-cleared. Kanu laid the ball back to Johnson who crossed. On the touchline Adams involuntarily headed an imaginary ball. On the pitch Kaboul headed the real one powerfully past Dida.

Milan brought on Clarence Seedorf, a European Cup winner with three clubs, but Portsmouth were in command. Ten minutes later Johnson again crossed and Kanu broke clear of Philippe Senderos to score.

Ancelotti brought on Alexandre Pato and Ronaldinho. The Fratton End responded with "Are you Bournemouth in disguise?" Their impertinence was punished. Ronaldinho floated in a 30-yard free-kick – harshly awarded after a challenge by Johnson.

Then Inzaghi, who had hit the woodwork again with a header, was left unmarked as Gianluca Zambrotta lofted hopefully into the box. This time, he scored.

Portsmouth (4-5-1): James; Johnson, Kaboul, Distin, Belhadj; Little (Mvuemba, 65), Diop, Hughes, A Traoré; Crouch, Kanu (Davis, 80). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Hreidarsson, Pamarot, Wilson.

Milan (4-3-1-2): Dida; Zambrotta, Favalli, Senderos, Antonini; Gattuso (Seedorf, 65), Emerson, Flamini; Kaka (Ronaldinho, 73); Inzaghi, Shevchenko (Pato, 73). Substitutes not used: Kalac (gk), Kaladze, Pirlo, Bonera.

Referee: S Gunienny (Belgium).


Milan have won just one of their 14 matches in England, Hernan Crespo giving the Italians a 1-0 victory over Manchester United in the European Cup in 2005.