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ICC Tournament • Real Madrid 0 (10), Milan 0 (9): Awakenings


So we lost to Real Madrid, no surprise there. But what was a surprise was that it was only a single one of eleven penalty kicks taken for each side that won the game. That’s right, we held our own against the big boys, with their stars on the pitch, for 90 minutes of regulation. And then, with our 16 year old keeper, the youngest player to ever play in the ICC Tournament this year, we matched their penalties one by one until the eleventh round. But that wasn’t even the incredible part. The incredible part was our level of play. Although it’s only been a couple of months since the end of the season, this squad is playing light years ahead of that squad. And even if it’s only a friendly, for the first time in years, I truly believe this squad is awakening from the dark times in recent years.

The thank you to the fans was watching the first half, honestly

As a fan watching at 5am, knowing it was “just a friendly,” I was merely hoping for a decent performance. But what I saw was more than decent. Not only did our boys have a seemingly endless supply of grinta, but there were also the skills and teamwork and execution necessary to play, something I hadn’t seen in a long time from our team… something called football. We dominated possession in the first half, but it wasn’t just holding the ball, it was meaningful possession. As in we moved the ball around well and created chances. Accurately passing. The ball. Specifically, Antonelli, Suso, and Niang were creating most of the chances, and it was… what’s the word? Oh yeah… exciting. One could conclude for the first time in a long time that these were professional footballers. Well, except for Cerci and Bertolacci, they were the opposite of amazing. But still, it was awesome.

Just a friendly? Antonelli’s shorts were ripped, De Sciglio’s lip got bloodied, Niang took a knock to his back when Pepe kept him from scoring by maybe an inch or two. Kaylor Navas still has the mud from Niang’s boots all over his gloves, I’m sure. De Jong rolled back the years and had some exquisitely sublime tackles that woke up parts of my brain that have been sleeping for years. And if there was any question as to whether or not the 21 year old Ely could hold his own against a “real” team, I’m sure that the Real Madrid players could tell you that there is no question whatsoever. Just please don’t tell them that he’s only 21, it might hurt their egos. I can’t remember a single chance that they had that was truly threatening in the first half.

That's Captain De Boss to you, Modric.

At the half, Mihajlovic subbed seven players on. Just six minutes in, Kroos had a very dangerous shot that luckily went wide, and announced that the Milan we all knew and loathed was back. The introduction of Montolivo, Mexes, and Zapata changed everything for the worse, and those who had fought valiantly and impressively for 45 minutes who were still on were now left doing double the work with half of the efficacy due to the ineptness of their teammates. Literally, the pace and pressure we had or the entire first half slowed to almost a standstill, despite seven pairs of fresh legs. Diego Lopez quickly became the MOTM, with a couple of massive saves against Ronaldo and at least one against Bale, too. Our attacking three of Honda, Adriano, and Bacca may or may not have looked world class, we’ll never know, because when they weren’t constantly tracking back to help the withered midfield and defense, they were left stranded at the top. Bacca did have a nice shot in the 61st that was tipped over by Casilla, but there wasn’t much else to talk about from Milan’s side.

In the 70th, Mihajlovic put on the 16 year-old Donnarumma, which was a fateful decision, but I’m glad that the kid got time. Also on were Calabria and Paletta. And thank goodness for Paletta, he saved us so many times. In the 81st, there was a joint opportunity for Adriano & Bacca, and it just seemed like they hesitated a little bit too long and missed the chance, but that is the kind of thing that playing in a partnership will earn you over time. However, as the end of regulation threatened and penalties loomed ominously and I whisper-screamed at my TV (due to the early hour) that Donnarumma needed to be subbed off, Mihajlovic instead brought on his super sub: THE MATRI.

There were the first half heroes, and then there was THE MATRI

That’s right, for the last five seconds of regulation, we were Mexes-less, and instead, THE MATRI came on, wearing Pirlo’s old number 21 like he’d stolen his mother’s lingerie and was wearing it loud and proud. And you know what? For all five seconds that THE MATRI was on the pitch in the second half, Real Madrid had zero scoring opportunities. Is that a testament to the power of THE MATRI? I’ll let you decide.

However, the game was decided by penalties. A lot of penalties. Eleven rounds, to be exact. Even THE MATRI put his away. Bacca, however, kicking third for Milan, saw his go just wide and maybe kiss the far post, which ended up being the deciding penalty. The young Donnarumma, who looked like a small child facing some terrible menacing evil all by himself, did save Kroos’ penalty, that kept us in the hunt. But ironically, after everyone else had taken their shots, his own penalty kick was saved by his counterpart. I weep for that poor boy. The courage he had under unfathomable pressure (even if it was only a friendly,) was more than I would be able to muster. I would have just wet myself and then curled up in the back of the goal and put my hands up to protect my head. And while he probably feels responsible for the loss, remember that if Bacca had made his penalty, we would have won and been declared champions of the ICC Tournament China and been given a trophy.

It's not so much as your penalty was saved, kid, but rather that YOU saved Toni Kroos' penalty. Respect.

If you think this is a lot to write about a meaningless friendly, you’re wrong on both parts. There were a lot of bright spots, as well as some humbling reminders (looking at you Montolivo) in this match that are more than worth mentioning. And it wasn’t meaningless at all. For the team, who boldly announced with at least 45 great minutes on the pitch, that we are going to contend with the best again. For Milan’s image world wide, it was an announcement – both to fans and to our rivals – that we are coming back. And especially for the fans, who have suffered unspeakable horrors watching the Milan crest on the pitch in recent years, an alarm to our hearts and to our football sensibilities that it’s finally going to be okay again… sooner rather than later. That we don’t have to keep our jerseys hidden in our closets, we can take them out and wear them proudly again. It may still take some time, but this match showed irrefutably that Milan is on the mend. Like a patient finally coming out of a coma. Awakenings.


This match was inspired by actual football in the red and black


Our next match is
Audi Cup
Bayern Munich vs. AC Milan
Tuesday, August 4 • 18:15 CEST (12:15pm EDT)
Allianz Arena, Munich