Inzaghi leads AC Milan back into semifinals
Filippo Inzaghi refuses to relent—neither to injuries nor a late-game deficit.
The striker scored two goals, including an 88th-minute winner, to advance AC Milan to the Champions League semifinals with a 3-1 win over Lyon on Tuesday.
In October, Inzaghi returned from a slow-healing left ankle injury, which has required two operations. He has also had tendinitis in a knee and sustained head trauma in the past two seasons.
“A magic evening, stratospheric, if I think about the tough times I’ve gone through,” Inzaghi said.
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti was effusive about his forward.
“He has a lot of experience in games like these,” he said.
“He’s always able to find the needed motivation, from the first to the last minute.”
After trading first-half goals, Milan was facing elimination on away goals until Inzaghi scored. Andriy Shevchenko added a third goal in injury time.
Milan advanced on 3-1 aggregate following a 0-0 first leg, reaching the semifinals for the third time in four seasons.
Milan looked slow on offence and uncoordinated on defence for most of the match, but that didn’t matter after Shevchenko sent in an angled shot that hit the far post and ricocheted back off the other post before Inzaghi pounded the ball in.
“I agree with the fact that we didn’t play a great game but we had a small advantage playing at home and I think that helped,” Ancelotti said. “With the talent we have in attack, we always believe we have a chance.”
The winner was Inzaghi’s fourth goal in five Champions League matches this season and his 52nd in 80 European matches for his career. In the previous round, he scored twice against Bayern Munich in the second leg.
Inzaghi is hoping to secure a place on Italy’s team for the World Cup, and Azzurri coach Marcello Lippi attended Tuesday’s game at San Siro.
Inzaghi started on the bench in the first leg, with Ancelotti choosing Alberto Gilardino instead. Gilardino, while effective in Serie A, has not scored in his eight Champions League matches this season.
Inzaghi’s first goal, a header off a cross from Clarence Seedorf, opened the scoring in the 25th minute. Mahamadou Diarra equalised in the 31st on a play that began with a free kick by Juninho.
Shevchenko’s goal gave him a competition-best nine this season, and tied him with former Benfica striker Eusebio with 56 goals for his career in Europe, trailing only Bayern Munich’s Gerd Mueller.
Besides the early goal and two misses by Inzaghi off setups from Serginho, Milan looked sloppy for most of the half and committed two glaring errors in front of its goal.
Goalkeeper Dida shanked a clearing attempt in the 18th and Fred nearly capitalised. A minute later, Kakha Kaladze’s misplay resulted in a long shot by Florent Malouda that went high. Lyon also closed the half on the attack.
Juninho, who missed the opening leg through suspension, sent in a surprise lob shot that Dida did well to tip over the bar in the 40th, and Fred’s header off a corner seconds later went wide.
In the second half, Milan pressed but Lyon did not settle into complete defensive mode.
Serginho’s angled shot hit the outside of the net in the 59th and Seedorf missed wide three minutes later. Milan struggled to create more serious chances until Inzaghi and Shevchenko, with another angled shot for the third goal, changed the team’s destiny.
French league leader Lyon exited in the quarterfinals for the third straight season.
“I can’t be too disappointed because we played well, maybe better than our opponent. We created more scoring occasions than Milan but we didn’t know how to take advantage,” Lyon coach Gerard Houllier said. “It all happened in the last few minutes. We had the win in our pocket.”
Milan will face either Barcelona or Benfica in the semifinals April 18 and 26.
“Barcelona is certainly the stronger team but I don’t have any preference,” Ancelotti said.
After a 0-0 first leg, Barcelona hosts Benfica in the second leg of the quarterfinals on Wednesday. - Sapa-AP