AC Milan in the Champions League: And then Leão turns on the light – Sport

Rain in Naples – that was an ominous harbinger, a meteorological brew of gloom, at least metaphorically. At the beginning they sang “O sole mio”, the anthem of the south, a stadium in the choir.

Napoli are out of the European premier class, which they had helped shape for a while this season with their light-heartedness, with this praised light-footedness in the game. That too is gone, as if blown away. And maybe it’s even unfair if the first words about Italy’s quarter-finals in the Champions League do not belong to the winners, AC Milan.

But hand on heart: who would not have begrudge Napoli that in this competition, in which they have never gone further than the quarter-finals in the club’s entire history, not even with Diego Armando Maradona – who would not have liked to see it if the Neapolitans had made it all the way to the roof of Europe? Okay, in Italy itself many are happy now, after all that is part of the logic of non-negotiable partisanship.

When the end was sealed, in the rain, the singers of “O sole mio” quickly tuned into another choir, concentrated in one line: “Vinceremo il tricolor”” – “We will win the tricolor.” The master’s badge in the national colors, the scudetto. A comfort song. And yes, Naples and its Napoli will probably not be able to lose the title again, even if they collectively drag themselves towards it, exhausted and heavy-footed and maybe a little tired from the previous celebrations. The lead over second-placed Lazio Roma is still 14 points.

But now to Milan, who are said to have won in the end with the aura of being used to winning, with the self-image of a club that already has seven copies of the pot in its closet. Or are they all in the museum? You say that about Real Madrid too: at some point the certainty burns into the heads of the players of such a club that history carries them. And across generations.

After going 1-0 in the first leg, Milan didn’t have a particularly strong cushion, but they just let Napoli run. Wave after wave, the “Rossoneri” parried, with peace of mind. The Milanese simply double-marked their most dangerous opponents: Georgian left-winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Nigerian centre-forward Victor Osimhen. The good “Kvara” wanted the glory with all his might, dribbled his way through many defenders’ legs with his usual freshness and also scored several times. But meanwhile you know his great numbers so well that you can defuse them. And Osimhen? He had been out injured for twenty days and was now only half an “Osi”, lost in Milan’s central defence. The ball rarely came to him.

And Osimhen? He was injured for twenty days and was only half an “Osi”

Milan were waiting for their chances to counterattack, and no wonder: whoever has one up front who trotts around a bit for long stretches of the game and then suddenly switches on the light for a few minutes, bright and glaring, like the constantly smiling Portuguese Rafael Leão does, 23 years old and ensnared by half of Europe, then you can wait a bit, sometimes miss a penalty and still keep the courage. In the 43rd minute, Leão briefly brightened the game, carried the ball close to his feet for 72 meters, rounded three opponents on the way and then played it to the center, to Olivier Giroud, who only had to push in the ball. A play from another time.

In Italy, the whole goal sequence now reminds everyone and almost down to the last detail of an original from 1988. Ruud Gullit gave the Leão and Marco Van Basten the Giroud, to put it with an outrageous reversal of the historically mature merits. Milan then won the first championship title in the title-rich era under President Silvio Berlusconi, the serial head-turner of the Italians. “Yes, the goal is identical,” Leão would later say, happily leaving the comparison with Gullit as is.

It is now said that his market value has just risen to 100 million euros, and the trend is rising. When he has a bit of open space in front of him, it really doesn’t have to be much, Rafa Leão paces the pitch with a rare compellingness. Perhaps only Kylian Mbappé is even more irresistible.

Napoli would have had chances to bend fate in his favor. It would have deserved two penalties instead of just one, as it rightly complains. The “best referee in the world”, as Poland’s Szymon Marciniak announced before the game, saw some contentious situations correctly, but not others. But when Napoli was then allowed to shoot freely on goal, Kvaratskhelia missed the penalty with a medium-high, fairly central shot – ideal for any goalkeeper. It didn’t even need Mike Maignan in the box, but of course: Mike Maignan, Milan’s French keeper, was once again outstanding. He only let himself be beaten when the names of the credits were already running. Osimhen’s header in the 93rd minute to make it 1-1 was a quiet farewell to the competition. Maybe that’s why we now have a little more strength for the rest of the championship.

And in Milan they are already preparing for a European derby, internally at least, it’s been twenty years since the last one. Inter play Benfica at the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium tonight. They won the first leg 2-0, quite unexpectedly clearly. Nothing should really happen there. The north of Italy is decidedly less superstitious than the south. But a bit of restraint in conjuring up what is to be expected is allowed to prevail. The lot brought about this constellation that the three Italian teams are all in the same half of the tableau. With half a guarantee of a place in the finals in Istanbul, or maybe a little more than half a guarantee.

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