Udinese 0-0 Milan: Little Zebras march into Champions League play-offs after draw with champions
The 2010-11 season’s surprise package pip Lazio to fourth position and a place in the qualification rounds of Europe’s premier club competition
By Jonathan MItchell
Udinese clinched the last remaining Champions League spot on Sunday night after a 0-0 draw with Serie A champions Milan.
Although Antonio Di Natale missed a 74th minute penalty, the stalemate still ensured that it would be the Stadio Friuli side and not Lazio who would take the coveted fourth place.Despite the fact that, barring an avalanche of Lazio goals, a point would have been enough for the hosts to achieve their target, they started the game with a real sense of purpose.
Mauricio Isla was the personification of this early desire as he marauded forward at every opportunity. In the seventh minute, one such run ended with him firing an angled drive over after latching on to Alexis Sanchez’s prodded through ball.
The Chilean was at the centre of things again two minutes later when he neatly stroked the ball into the path of Gokhan Inler, but like Isla before him, he failed to hit the target, dragging wide of the upright from 22 yards.
Udinese came closest to scoring when, in the 19th minute, Serie A top scorer Antonio Di Natale clipped the outside of the post with a fine curling free-kick.
However, the reality of their situation – with Lazio leading, a Milan goal on the counter attack could prove exceedingly costly - appeared to sink in and Francesco Guidolin’s men gradually began to limit their attacking exuberance.
But this handed Milan the impetus and they threatened Samir Handanovic’s goal on a handful of occasions towards the end of the half.
In the 32nd minute Alexandre Pato and Mathieu Flamini worked a neat exchange on the edge of the box before the Brazilian let fly with a powerful effort which, to the home fans’ relief was straight down Handanovic’s throat.
Then, five minutes later, Antonio Cassano picked out Kevin-Prince Boateng’s back post run with a sumptuous pass which the Ghanaian met with a thunderous left-foot volley that fizzed inches over the crossbar.
The final chance of the half was both created and executed by Cassano. The former Sampdoria man danced away from the attention of Pablo Armero and worked a yard of space in which to shoot for goal.
The effort had the power but not the accuracy and flashed wide of Handanovic’s right-hand upright, and so the sides went in level at the break, with Udinese safe in the knowledge fourth place rivals Lazio were drawing 2-2 with lowly Lecce.
After the break, it was a full 20 minutes before either side managed a shot on goal when Di Natale raced onto Inler’s slide-rule pass and fired off an angled drive which Marco Amelia expertly flipped wide with a double-handed save.
The opportunity appeared to spark Udinese into life and they continued to pile on the pressure in search of an opening goal.
But they did not reckon with the performance of Milan stopper Amelia, who single-handedly denied the hosts with a virtuoso second-half performance.
In the 67th minute, he foiled Sanchez with a fine save low to his left, and then in the 74th minute he flew to his left and got the merest of touches on Di Natale’s spotkick to tip the ball against the post and wide.
On the one occasion he was beaten all-ends-up, Inler’s 30-yard howitzer crashed against the bar and then the post before rebounding to safety.
Although Udinese failed to find the breakthrough, their second half performance merited in the end, the 0-0 draw was more than enough to send them into the Champions League for only the second time in their history, although they will have to go through the play-off round first.
Scudetto winners Milan, meanwhile, looked content to end a successful season with a respectable away point.
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