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Milan march out of the Champions League with their heads held high

I'll be the first to say it - I feel good after this game. For the first time in years, this season I've had the pleasure of watching a Milan team that makes me proud. The men in red and black ran out onto the hostile ground in London tonight with no real substitutes, a loss from the first leg and an attitude that makes me shout in support even though my couch is hardly at hearing distance to Seedorf and co. Yes, tonight the Milan spirit was personified in the Dutch senator, who put in a wonderful vice-Pirlo performance in deep midfield while sporting the captain's armband.


"What if" is a funny and rather useless question which I prefer not to ask. I will not speculate whether Pirlo would have made a difference, whether Zlatan should have been rested ahead of this game or whether Allegri should have approached the first game different. If you are looking for a whining partner, look elsewhere. I am here to discuss the positive and negative aspects of Milan's performance tonight - well, mainly the positives because the negatives were few, although decisive in the end.

Milan dominated the tempo of the game, using Seedorf as a metronome. They held a steady pace, just quick enough to keep Tottenham pinned back but not quite quick enough to let the game turn into a chaotic mixture of the 100 yard dash and wrestling that Premier League clubs and pundits take such pride in. Tottenham did nothign to counter Milan's gameplan, they took the old school English approach of feeding high balls to the giant in the box and hoping for the best. Crouch did manage to knock down a few potentially dangerous balls for his team-mates but Milan's immaculate defensive line stopped all those chances before they came to be. Seedorf had a few crucial clearances behind the defense, and played an all-round excellent and fully concentrated 90 minutes. Speaking of Crouch, his usage of elbows was once again hazardous to say the least and he should have been booked on at least two occasions.

Milan had two wild cards in the possession game - Robinho and Pato both did their share of movement off the ball and made the entire Tottenham back line earn their paychecks. They both could have scored, in Pato's case he lacked a bit of luck, but in Robinho's the problem was inexcusably poor finishing. He absolutely had to convert that chance in the first half, and how he managed to hit a player that was rolling on the ground in the shoulder is beyond me. Pato on the other hand was definitely Milan's most dangerous player up front - which brings me to Ibrahimovic.

I expect him to take a lot of heat from some Milan supporters for his performance, but I have to make a case for Zlatan. I will not go into any emotional rants, I'll stick to simply stating facts, and here's a list of facts about Zlatan Ibrahimovic:

  1. He has been in dire need of a rest for at least 3 weeks
  2. He constantly has to deal with at least two defenders
  3. He made a good effort to create space for his team-mates and succeeded on quite a few occasions
  4. He has been a tremendous force in Serie A all season
  5. He is both Milan's top scorer and best assist-maker

Although far from an inspired performance, Ibrahimovic put in a decent shift tonight and, although clearly frustrated by the lack of goal-scoring opportunities, he seemed more than willing to step aside for players in better shape. All in all, any Ibrahimovic hate is sorely misplaced in this case, all players have periods of bad form but he for one makes himself useful even if he does nothing special on the ball. He is the prime reason Milan won a lot of close games this season, and don't you forget that. With that said, I think he needs a break and I hope to see him on the bench against Bari with Cassano taking his place against the team he grew up in.

What more is there to be said? The rest of the team performed admirably, the defense hardly put a foot wrong all game, Nesta and Abbiati made a few unfortunate passes in and around Milan's box but any pressure from Tottenham's forwards was generally dealt with in a routine manner and only provided more space for the rossoneri midfield. Kevin Prince Boateng and young Merkel both provided what was lacking in the first leg, and that is some sort of transition from defense to attack. Flamini did his job properly and managed not to crack any bones tonight.

All in all a good game from Milan, perhaps our boys were unlucky not to score but we can all take pride in the fact they went to London to play good football and give the English media a taste of Serie A, now on to domestic challenges. Milan can concentrate on the league for the rest of the season, and with this sort of football should go on to win the competition after 7 long years. With proper reinforcements in the summer, we might just watch the next great European Milan next year.

Forza Milan and sleep well, because this is the most encouraging loss I remember.