By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
It’s game on for the Champions League!
When AC Milan lost 3-1 at home to Fiorentina in November to continue a horrific start to the campaign, nobody could have envisaged what happened at San Siro on Wednesday night. The 2-0 victory over Barcelona was a victory for battling, a victory for unity, a victory for organisation, and a victory for footballing democracy.
To many, the Champions League last 16 tie was over before it had begun, but the Rossoneri instead recorded a first-leg victory which leaves the Catalan giants with a huge amount to do if they are to progress to the last eight. Yes, Barca are very much still in it, but Milan have already shown they can stretch the Blaugrana and cause them issues at the back.
The nature of the goal which changed the game may be debated long and hard on the Spanish coast, but its validity was clear. In no way did Cristian Zapata deliberately handle the ball, nor was there any way he had enough time to stop the ball making contact with his arm. Kevin-Prince Boateng did what every good footballer should do: he played to the whistle, smashing the ball across Victor Valdes and into the back of the net.
|MATCH FACTS | Milan 2-0 Barcelona
Wednesday night’s match was about Milan being perfectly set up to stop Barcelona, and the Blaugrana not having the same ability themselves. Whereas Jordi Roura’s side had about as little of the ball in the opposition third as they have in many a year, Milan were able to get in between Dani Alves and Carles Puyol with frightening regularity. The Rossoneri didn't hit them often, but when they did, they hit them hard.
Three months of hard work have seen the Diavolo recover from ignominy to the verge of claiming the biggest scalp the Champions League has to offer, and every single person at the club deserves their share of credit on one of the great nights at San Siro.
Milan may not get out of this tie yet, but they have laid down a blueprint at the very least. If a Milan team missing Mario Balotelli, Nigel De Jong, Mathieu Flamini and Antonio Nocerino, and possessing arguably the weakest defence man-to-man since Silvio Berlusconi bought the club in 1986, can not only beat Barcelona 2-0 but do so without conceding a single clear-cut chance, then we know that this season's Champions League is wide open.
The likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Real Madrid, Manchester United, among others, will be looking at this game and fancying their chances of going all the way. And if Milan can beat Barcelona, then they will fear no one either.