STADIO SAN SIRO (Milan): AC Milan claimed a 1-0 win in the first all-Italian Champions League] knockout game for 18 years as an Ismael Bennacer strike sealed a pulsating first-leg victory over 10-man Napoli.
Napoli struggled to execute in the final third in the absence of injured top scorer Victor Osimhen, and they were punished when Milan hit on the break for Bennacer’s goal late in the first half.
Things got worse when Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa was booked twice in four minutes to put Napoli down to 10 men for the final 15 minutes.
By the time the full-time whistle blew, Luciano Spalletti may well have been happy to settle for a one-goal margin to take to Naples next week, despite seeing his side miss some big late chances.
San Siro atmosphere boosts AC Milan
San Siro was at its raucous and colourful best as the seven-time European champions hosted their first Champions League quarter-final for 11 years and earned their second win over the runaway Serie A leaders in 10 days to boot, following their stunning 4-0 victory at the Stadio Diego Maradona.
The result means that, at the halfway stage of the quarter-final ties, Milan are on course to meet Inter in the Derby della Madonnina for a place in the final. The Nerazzurri beat Benfica 2-0 on Tuesday night.
A full-stadium choreography was unveiled before kick-off featuring the famous European trophy, a ‘This is Milan’ message and an image of a devil strangling the Neapolitan Pulcinella alongside a banner reading: ‘Our destiny is in our hands’.
Napoli missing a striker
The big pre-match news was Spalletti’s decision to start Eljif Elmas as a false nine in the absence of the injured Osimhen and Giovanni Simeone, with Giacomo Raspadori lacking full fitness.
It quickly became clear that the lack of a natural striker wasn’t going to stop Napoli flying forward at every opportunity, as Khvicha Kvartskhelia had a shot cleared off the line inside the opening minute.
The Georgian was in the mood as he danced and weaved up and down the left wing, but the finishing touch was eluding Napoli and Piotr Zielinski’s rasping drive was palmed over by a sprawling Mike Maignan.
Napoli’s early dominance was in large part down to a successful high press that starved Milan’s midfield of the ball.
But the Rossoneri ominously showed the dangers of that strategy when Rafael Leao broke clear of Amir Rrahmani and ran half the length of the pitch, only to roll a shot wide of the far post and kick the corner flag to pieces in frustration.
It proved to be a sign of things to come, as in the 40th minute Brahim Diaz brilliantly broke free of the press and surged forward, feeding Leao on the right, and the winger’s cross found its way through to Bennacer for a first-time finish past Alex Meret.
The goal came against the run of play but enlivened an already electrified crowd, who were soon groaning in disbelief when a Simon Kjaer header crashed off the bar to complete a frantic first half.
Maignan thwarts late Napoli attempts
A ducking Elmas header was tipped off the top of the bar and over after the break, but the frantic tempo soon slowed to a more moderate pace, with chances in short supply.
Raspadori was introduced with 21 minutes to go to try and inject some spark into Napoli’s attack, but the visitors’ night was quickly derailed when Anguissa picked up his second yellow. To make matters worse, Kim Min-jae soon picked up a booking that rules him out of the second leg too.
Despite the disadvantage, it was Spalletti’s side who created the next big chances, Maignan clawing away an effort from Giovanni Di Lorenzo before substitute Mathias Olivera headed over a huge chance from six yards.