AC Milan took a big step towards their first Champions League semi-final appearance for 16 years as Ismael Bennacer’s goal secured a 1-0 home win over Napoli in the quarter-final first leg on Wednesday.
On a rainy night, Serie A leaders Napoli’s first European clash with seven-times European champions Milan was also their first appearance in the quarter-finals of Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
“I am above all happy to enjoy evenings like this with our fans,” AC Milan manager Stefano Pioli told Sky Sport Italia after his side kept a fifth consecutive clean sheet in the Champions League for the first time since 2004-05.
“The history of Milan speaks to many Champions League victories, but the recent years saw us dream of getting here, so we wanted to enjoy it.
“We didn’t build out well from the back at the start, giving Napoli the chance to hurt us, but we got the first home win over Napoli in three years.”
Attempting to avenge their 4-0 home defeat by Milan in Serie A this month, Napoli began pressing immediately.
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Napoli had their first chance when the Milan defence failed to clear a low ball across the goal, but Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s attempt was blocked on the line.
Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski fired in a thunderous effort on goal, but Milan keeper Mike Maignan tipped it over the crossbar.
Milan’s first opportunity came from striker Rafael Leao, who took the ball in his own half and made a solo run into the Napoli box before shooting just past the far post.
Although Napoli dominated most of the first half, the hosts took the lead five minutes before the interval when Brahim Diaz teed up Bennacer who struck a low shot inside the far post.
Milan had the opportunity to double their lead when a header from Simon Kjaer struck the crossbar and bounced down, with the referee signalling that the ball did not cross the goal line.
Napoli’s situation worsened 16 minutes from time when midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa received a second yellow card for pushing Theo Hernandez.
Romanian referee Istvan Kovacs issued 10 yellow cards – four to Milan and six to Napoli – with Napoli’s Kim Min-jae’s booking ruling him out of the second leg along with Anguissa.
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“Any absence is damaging at this stage of the season, but we also have players who can fill in, which is why we are where we are. We trust the squad. We are sad not to have Anguissa, as it feels unjust not to have him, but there’s nothing we can do,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said to Sky Sport Italia.
“We were on the verge of substituting Anguissa when it happened, so that is disappointing that it took us a minute or two to think of who to replace and I wasn’t paying enough attention to the referee. I don’t comment on the referee, that is not my role.”
Although Napoli had several chances and more attempts on target than Milan, they missed Serie A top scorer Victor Osimhen, who was out with a thigh injury.
Milan are the only team to beat Napoli more than once this season in all competitions ahead of the second leg of the quarter-final on April 18.
Photo Credit: Getty