SSC Napoli 1, AC Milan 1: Love Triumphs Over Hate

Milan are back int the Champions League Semifinals for the first time since 2007. They have exceeded all expectations in this competition this year. While the 1-1 match was intense, and a late equalizer detracted from Milan's impressive performance against a relentless Napoli side, having the goal advantage was enough to send us through. Two saved penalties, an apparent transfer of Milan's injury curse to our opponents, and a breathtaking Leão performance kept us riveted to the action. But it was the narrative going into this match as well as our unified team and fans that demonstrated the best lesson of the night – that love triumphs over hate.

Returning the love

Sure, Milan had our DNA, and Napoli did not have history on their side. But a heated climate between two rival clubs of frustration and talking about referees was compounded by the utterly toxic and inhumane actions of some Napoli fans this week. Not only were there Napoli fans who threw lighters, cups of soda and urine, and spit on Milan fans at San Siro last week, but there was some widely publicized personal online abuse that saw Napoli fans wish death on Theo Hernández and his one year-old son on Instagram. 

Despite the world's condemnation of that behavior, fans doubled down and chanted specifically against him upon the team's arrival in Napoli. That, and they also sang that Paolo Maldini was a "Uomo di me**a" (man of sh**). Then, in something akin to what toddlers would do if they were football fans, a tradition that really only Napoli fans do, fans gathered outside Milan's hotel to make noise and set off fireworks all night in an effort to disturb the players' sleep. And, because none of this disgusting behavior was low enough, a video was posted online of Napoli fans racially abusing Leão as he left the hotel and boarded the bus for the stadium.

Undying love for their team

Their Ultras had been so busy protesting, warring amongst themselves and also with their club President, De Laurentiis, amongst other heinous crimes this year, that they did not have any time to create or get approval for any coreo like the epic coreo that Milan's Curva Sud displayed last week at San Siro. The Stadio Diego Armando Maradona seats approximately 55,000, and only about 2,500 of those were Milan fans. Yet the atmosphere was so different than last week, where Milan fans sang and supported their team nonstop in both venues. Napoli fans mostly whistled their opponents or were silent tonight.

However, in that atmosphere, the match kicked off, and Napoli started attacking with frenetic intensity. They would end up taking 23 shots, but only four on target. They could not score. Milan would defend virtually impeccably, defending 16 corner kicks. Sixteen. (Milan only took one the entire match.) And three of Napoli's corners came in the first seven minutes. But Milan absorbed the attacks and wisely waited for their chances.

Milan's defense faced a monumental challenge tonight

The first chance came when Mário Rui fouled Leáo in the penalty area in the 21st minute. Leão actually needed treatment, it was a pretty obvious and brutal foul. The penalty was given, Giroud stepped up to take it... and Meret saved it. Still scoreless on the night. Giroud would follow it up a few minutes later with an excellent attempt, but Meret would save that, too.

In the 34th, some sort of cosmic shift saw Napoli, already without Simeone due to injury, have to make two early substitutions due to injury, as neither Politano nor Mário Rui could continue. Lozano and Olivera replaced them, which is tied to the next reference point in the match. Leão came flying in for a great tackle on Lozano in the box in the 36th. Marciniak, the referee, did not give it as a penalty. Nor did the VAR review, because the trajectory of the ball clearly showed that Leão absolutely got to the ball first. Some Napoli fans claim that Leão made some slight contact with Lozano, but even if that was true, that was not enough for him to fall, so definitely not a penalty.

Bennacer consoles Giroud after his penalty was saved

Just a few minutes later, however, Lozano probably should have been carded for a nasty foul on Giroud, as he directly kicked the back of his ankle/calf instead of the ball, for which Giroud needed treatment for. But he was up and running again in a minute or two, just in time for the play of the match.

Leão took the ball and dribbled nearly the full length of the pitch, around multiple defenders, and with a little skip, timed it perfectly, then put it on a plate for Giroud, who slotted it past a helpless Meret and his defense. 1-0 Milan, 2-0 on aggregate. The away fans exploded with joy. The Milan players and bench were ecstatic. So much love for so much beauty.

Brilliant run, assist, and goal.

Theo Hernández received a yellow card in stoppage time for stopping Osimhen. There was some confusion, as it was initially reported that the card was for Tonali, who would have then been suspended for the semifinal. But that was cleared up, and now all of the cards will be reset for the semifinals. Maignan's, too, which he was also given in stoppage time, although cameras did not show what it was given for, perhaps timewasting? Osimhen actually found the back of the net in stoppage time, but the goal did not count, as he was whistled for a handball in the effort leading to the strike.

Napoli came out firing again in the second half, although without quite as much pace or energy. Pioli curiously brought on Messias for Brahim Díaz in the 59th, and then the birthday boy, Origi, on for Giroud in the 68th. Giroud's fitness had been in question ahead of the match anyway, and with that nasty knock, it seemed like he was struggling.

Maignan every bit as important as the goalscorer tonight.

The 80th minute saw Tomori fall and whistled for a handball, giving Napoli a penalty. I understand it had to be given, but my commentators were talking about his arm being in an "unnatural position." Given their lack of knowledge about Italian football, Milan, and especially their horrific pronunciations of simple names like Calabria and Maignan, I found myself imagining them falling down and seeing what natural positions their arms wound up in.

Kvaratskhelia, finally detached from Calabria's back pocket for a moment at the spot, stepped up and took the penalty... and Maignan saved it, too! Such amazing goalkeeping and brilliant football drama. Saelemaekers replaced the brilliant Leão, whom UEFA named Player of the Match, and deservedly so. Milan held on, furiously defending, but in the final minute of stoppage time, Osimhen managed to get a header past Maignan and the Milan defense. 1-1 all, 2-1 Milan on aggregate. It was a shame, almost a perfect clean sheet in the knockout rounds. But the consolation goal was a testament to a Napoli team's hard work and effort to turn around a deficit.

Love triumphs over hate.

The most telling part of the night was that for the final minutes of the match, all you could hear ahead of the goal was Milan fans, still singing to support their team. Just as they have for 90 plus minutes long in every match, win, lose, or draw, home or away, all season long. The Napoli fans were silent. Apparently, they hate others (and each other) more than they love their team. They say that love conquers all, and tonight, it did. Milan are going to the Champions League semifinals because of the love of their supporters, in spite of some horrific hate from the opposing fans. Love triumphs over hate.

This post inspired by the music of Queen's "Love of My Life"

Coming up is the
UEFA Youth League Semifinal
Hajduk Split U19 vs. AC Milan Primavera
Friday, April 21 • 18:00 CET (12 noon EDT)
This match can be streamed LIVE on Paramount + in the U.S. or on

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 31
Milan vs. Lecce
Sunday, April 23, 2023 • 18:00 CET (9am EDT)

SSC Napoli 1, AC Milan 1: Love Triumphs Over Hate SSC Napoli 1, AC Milan 1: Love Triumphs Over Hate Reviewed by Elaine on 11:58 PM Rating: 5
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