The Rossoneri could see their place in the Champions League confirmed later today after a dominant performance, capped by the controversial striker's clinical finishingAC Milan as they recorded a simple victory over Pescara, running out 4-0 victors in a desperately one-sided encounter. The former Manchester City man opened the scoring from the penalty spot and rounded off victory with a second-half finish, Sulley Muntari and Mathieu Flamini also hitting to complete the rout and put one foot into the Champions League.
Milan wasted no time in getting on the front foot against already-relegated opposition, pushing forward in search of the points that would help them towards a third-place finish and Champions League football next season. The home team, with nothing to lose, also went for it, ensuring an entertaining start to the game and Balotelli should have taken the lead inside the first two minutes, but slammed against the bar with the goal open.
It did not take long for the striker to make amends. Antonio Nocerino's surge into the box was cut short by a clumsy challenge by Uros Cosic, and a penalty was the result. Balotelli stepped up confidently, and with just 10 minutes gone sent Mattia Perin the wrong way to open the scoring.
The goal was the cue for Milan to take control of the game, dominating possession and attacking vibrantly, especially down the right flank through M'Baye Niang. The youngster almost hit a second, ghosting past Marco Capuano before steering in a shot that was dragged just wide of Perin's upright. The best opportunity for Pescara came through Giuseppe Sculli, who ran onto a long pass to beat a sleepy back line before sending a half-volley disappointingly wide of goal.
The away team increased their advantage midway through the first half. Capuano's challenge on Balotelli out wide resulted in a free kick, floated by Robinho over the mass of bodies that had congregated on the near post and penalty spot. There waiting was Muntari, and the midfielder was blissfully unmarked as he volleyed past Perin and into the net, putting Milan two up at the interval and looking comfortable.
If the first 45 minutes were disappointing for the Delfini, the second period threatened to become a complete disaster. A slip from Luciano Zauri proved fatal as Robinho bypassed the defender five minutes after the break, and the Brazilian had time to pick his target out wide. A delicate cross was met perfectly by Mathieu Flamini, steaming in from deep and the ex-Arsenal man timed his volley well to make the score 3-0, ending the game as a contest.
Milan were now rampant and the only question remaining was how many would be added to the rout. Another arrived just before the hour, when Flamini took down an awkward lofted ball on the right and squared to Balotelli. The forward still had plenty to do, but turned impressively to shrug off his marker and finished with a shot right into the roof of the net, for his second of the encounter.
The Rossoneri cruised through what remained of the match, almost adding a fifth through substitute Giampaolo Pazzini who was denied one on one by Perin. It mattered not, however, as Milan held on to a four-goal advantage and picked up what could be three crucial points in the battle for the Champions League.
The win means Milan move seven points clear of Fiorentina in third, albeit having played an extra game. If the Viola lose away to Siena in the later kick-off, Massimiliano Allegri's men will be assured Champions League football for 2013-14.