Milan 0, Napoli 1: Sportsmanship Lost

We knew this would be a tough match, missing seven players, most of whom were starters. Having traveled and played on Thursday, Milan were at a serious disadvantage, even playing at home. Gattuso's side took all three points in a match that at any point could have just as easily gone to Milan. However, it wasn't just Milan and our Scudetto hopes that lost. There was a significant amount of poor character and sportsmanship surrounding this match that made this pill harder to swallow. Yes, Milan dropped three points, but sportsmanship lost.

Like a disappointed father

Leao set the tone of the match in the fourth minute as he ran in on goal, Ospina courageously stopping his effort and his body taking the impact of Leao's run. Ouch. Both sides traded shots after that, and although it wasn't Milan's best performance in the first half, they stayed in the game. We had at least two more impressive shots from Leao as well as a couple of balls sent well over by Calhanoglu. Poor Pasqua's bad luck also started in the first half when he took a Tomori ball from a relatively close distance. Ouch. But he also started the questionable calls when he whistled Milan offside before the linesman raised his flag. The President had some words with him about that call, but it doesn't help to build trust in a referee when he does something like that.

The second half kicked off and Milan came out even faster and with more intensity. Castillejo had a shot straight at Ospina that was saved. And then in the 49th, of course it was the player on loan from Inter, Politano, that broke the hearts of Milan fans with the goal. 1-0 Napoli. That just made Milan more determined, as they have learned to play this past year. Not even the fresh legs of Rebic, Brahim and Saelemaekers in the 60th could help, though. Pioli just didn't have many options from the bench, they're all injured. Even the players who played were not match fit. Gabbia, for example, hasn't played a minute since mid-December. Considering that patchwork lineup, they were actually amazing.

Gabbia hasn't played in 3 months, but faced a player like Osimhen

There was a beautiful moment where Theo Hernandez just turned Osimhen perfectly by shielding the ball with his body, and then Leao had another shot saved a few minutes later in the 65th. Leao got a lot of criticism, but he worked harder than ever in this match. With Castillejo and Krunic on the pitch, it was almost like playing with 9 men, so Leao had to create chances on his own, and played the full length of the pitch, too. He had at least four scoring opportunities, but luck was not with him. And by that, I mean he went off injured in the 79th. Rebic had a perfect opportunity in the 66th, but instead sent the ball into orbit with his powerful kick. He also had a header from a Tonali free kick in the 70th that Ospina saved, such a shame.

Theo Hernandez was a beast, and Napoli recognized this on multiple occasions with brute force. He had a shot or two as well, and also earned himself a yellow card with a late tackle on Osimhen. Mario Rui accidentally tackled Pasqua at that point, which seemed to possibly injure the ref. Pasqua was also looking at a VAR review for Bakayoko having clipped Hernandez from behind in the play building up to the tackle on Osimhen. Two big decisions in a single minute, a possible penalty for Milan and whether to give Hernandez a yellow or a red for his tackle on Osimhen.

Leao vs. one of the best defenders in Serie A, he still created chances

As well as managing his own injury, Pasqua stuck with the yellow card for Hernandez and refused to give Milan a penalty. Despite Mazzoleni, the head VAR ref, instructing him to have a look at it, he refused. If it were any other team, I am quite certain he would have given the penalty for that foul. But it was Milan, and we were simply not going to get a penalty on his watch, no matter what happened. It is a shame that refs are doing that now, Milan could easily be up to 20 penalties at this point if that were not the case. But we needed to win of our own merit, with or without the penalty call. This is my first point of sportsmanship lost: Milan fans crying about not getting a penalty. It makes me sick, fans seem so entitled and expect to be given every call. But that has never been the case, with or without VAR. Please don't come crying to me.

The President: An unstoppable force

The second case of sportsmanship lost goes to our old friend Gattuso, who earned a yellow card for dissent when that call actually went Napoli's way. I love you Gattuso, but that's seriously unsporting. The third case came shortly thereafter when Pasqua slipped and fell yet again, seemingly injured, and Rebic said something to him to earn a straight red. That's just bad form from him. It was already stoppage time, and now he misses Fiorentina. But my commentator wasn't much better, he literally accused Pasqua of "going down too easily." What is wrong with people? The man is staying on the pitch having been injured by a player, and you say something like that? To be fair, this commentator couldn't tell Tomori from Meite or Tonali from Theo Hernandez. Still, I really think that sportsmanship is lost.

One of these players was my man of the match, he never gave up

Milan battled valiantly for the last few minutes on ten men, and Napoli were pinned back for much of that time. But at the final whistle, it wasn't enough. Our "B team" didn't have enough in the tank to pull it off, and we lost three points and probably all hope of a title, also risking staying in the top four. To add insult to injury, the Napoli bench were verbally abusing Gigio Donnarumma for the entire second half, and after the whistle, their team manager, Scala, dug deeper with the insults, presumably in a Neopolitan dialect. Gigio, wearing the captain's armband, is not easily angered, but it took a lot of people to hold him back after whatever was said. No one likes a poor winner, and what kind of grown man verbally abuses a 22 year old? It was hard enough to lose this one after giving it everything we had left, but worse that the Napoli bench and staff were so horrible. Sportsmanship is so lost, it's almost as if it never existed.

Another case of poor sportsmanship goes to Roma. They complained that the league moved the Juve-Napoli rescheduled match from midweek, saying that it gave Napoli an unfair advantage. They complained about having to face a fresh Napoli just four days after playing in the Europa League. Which is what Milan did today, without whining or complaining at all, even if it likely cost us the match. Both Juve and Napoli gave themselves the advantage by crashing out of Europe. 

You can have the 3 points, but you lost the sportsmanship

When the league was given the opportunity to move a fixture crammed into this week because Juventus failed in the Champions League again, they moved the match to a less congested week. It's happened before. Roma are complaining that Napoli and Juventus were choosing their schedule, but it was ultimately the league's decision and probably has more to do with television ratings than anything else. But that Roma had the audacity to whine about having to do what Milan just did, despite having played the most games, with the team that are the youngest in Serie A and have had the most injuries is just sad. Sportsmanship really is lost.

The match was heartbreaking. Milan fought with everything they had, and ended up empty handed. And possibly down another striker. At least if we had to lose, it is better to lose to Gattuso. But it's a really hard pill to swallow when overall, the club has really been sporting and done everything they could to win. To do what we have done against all odds is really incredible, but losses are that much more humbling when we are so used to winning if we play like we did tonight. Worse still that there was so much poor character shown in and around this match. It's bad enough that Milan lost, but even worse that sportsmanship lost.

This post inspired by the music of The Cure's "To Wish Impossible Things"

Our next match his
Europa League Round of 16
AC Milan vs. Manchester United FC
Thursday, March 18 • 21:00 CET (4pm EDT)*
*note the time difference due to American Daylight Savings Time

Milan 0, Napoli 1: Sportsmanship Lost Milan 0, Napoli 1: Sportsmanship Lost Reviewed by Elaine on 11:00 PM Rating: 5
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