Rio Ave 2 (8), AC Milan 2 (9): Eternal Suspense

If ever there were a match that was like climbing a sheer cliff wall, then walking on a tightrope across hot lava only to find that there was a river filled with piranha to cross after that, this would be that match. Both teams were playing for a spot in the Europa League Group Stage, and 90 minutes simply wasn't enough to determine which team won. Nor was 30 minutes of added extra time. In fact, it took 24 of the most intense, nerve-wracking penalties ever to settle this match, and I, for one, still haven't recovered. This match was one of eternal suspense.

Massive celebration for our massive hero

The match itself was tense, and not Milan's greatest performance. Rio Ave play a tight game, are great at tackles and interceptions, and not afraid of fouls or cards, either. They certainly were effective at interrupting Milan's game. Daniel Maldini started as the center forward, and was not able to break down Rio Ave's defense. Milan's defense is still a little shaky without Romagnoli, so when it was scoreless at the half, the intensity only built more.

Saelemaekers broke the deadlock in the 51st with a great goal from a slightly deflected corner. 1-0 Milan. Calhanoglu had a great free kick deflected over in the 69th. Just three minutes later, however, Milan were caught off guard by substitute Geraldes, who scored a great equalizer. 1-1 all. Milan increased their intensity and took more breathtaking shots that were saved or went just wide, but it was still 1-1 at the end of regulation, so another 30 minutes of added extra time had to be played.

Drawing first blood

Rio Ave kicked off that extra time with a shock goal by another sub, Gelson Dala. 2-1 Rio Ave. Milan have not lost a match since March, so seemed a little lost, but kept fighting, even more ferociously as time was ticking away. They were handed a lifeline when Borevkovic handled the ball in the box for a second yellow card and was sent off, with Milan being awarded a penalty. Calhanoglu stepped up and nailed the penalty to send the match to penalties. 2-2 all.

Never one to waste a lifeline

Not since 2018 in a friendly vs. Manchester United here in Los Angeles has Milan seen so many penalties. There were 26 penalties taken that night, when Mourinho and Gattuso were joking about taking penalties themselves to end it. Only this time, it wasn't a joke. Europa League qualification was on the line, with both teams desperate to move on to the group stage.

Gigio coming full circle with another penalty shootout

The penalties were matched identically to a point that it felt like my heart was a rubber band being wound tighter and tighter, almost as if it would snap at any moment. Here is a breakdown of the penalty shootout:

⚽Adderlan Santos
⚽Theo Hernandez
⚽Brahim Diaz
⚽Gelson Dala
❌Colombo shot over
Monte hit both goal posts, didn't go in
⚽Ivo Pinto (Gigio almost saved)
Gigio shot over
Kieszek shot over
Bennacer 2nd penalty was saved
Geraldes 2nd penalty hit the post
⚽Kjaer 2nd penalty
Adderlan Santos 2nd penalty saved by Gigio!!!

24 Penalties. 24 times my heart stopped and had to be jumpstarted again by the hope of Milan continuing our undefeated streak and reaching the Europa League group stage. Colombo's heartbreaking miss followed by Nelson Monte's how-did-that-not-go-in miss. Both goalkeepers missing their penalties. Kieszek saving Bennacer's second penalty, since the game was not decided after all of the players had taken their shots. When Gigio saved Adderlan Santos' second penalty, I went a little insane, and my throat is still hoarse, hours later.

THE save

The extra time and endless penalties actually left Milan stranded in Portugal for the night, having missed their flight, with the team unable to fly home until Friday morning. The suspense felt eternal, but in the end, we went through. Each victory like this separates us more from the Milan of recent years. It was not a pretty match by any means, and our guys were absolutely exhausted. However, it was a mental victory, and a victory of status, being able to claw our way back into European competition. It was a victory for our young players, to get experience playing in Europe, and learn what it means to go the distance. And then go that much further.

Much respect to Rio Ave, who fought fiercely, and perhaps deserved the win. Their fans must have gone through a similar form of torture watching first, the late handball, red card, and penalty, then the extra time, and then the eternal penalty shootout with all of the drama and pain. Only to be left without Europe this year. 

When your goalkeeper sends you through with a single penalty save

That could have just as easily been us Milan fans, who still carry the PTSD and scars of the last ten years at the club. However, it wasn't. In the end, Gigio Donnarumma came up big for us, and literally saved us from what would have been perceived as embarrassing for a club of Milan's history in Europe. It was the worst kind of torture, but ended in joyous celebrations for a tired young squad who fought fiercely for their shirt. A joy that ended the eternal suspense.

This post inspired by the music of The Foo Fighters' "Everlong"

Milan have been drawn in Group H, with Celtic, Sparta Prague, AC Milan, and Lille

Our next match is
Serie A Week 3
Milan vs. Spezia
Sunday, October 4 • 18:00 CEST (12noon EDT)

Rio Ave 2 (8), AC Milan 2 (9): Eternal Suspense Rio Ave 2 (8), AC Milan 2 (9): Eternal Suspense Reviewed by Elaine on 10:15 PM Rating: 5
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