The good news is that football is finally back in Italy, even if to see the first post-pandemic goals we’ll have to wait a little more. In a deserted Allianz Stadium, the second leg of the Coppa Italia Semi-Final between Juventus and Milan ended in a goalless draw, an outcome which qualified the Bianconeri to next week’s Final on away goals rule.
Milan and Juventus had tied 1-1 the first leg played at the San Siro in February, with Cristiano Ronaldo equalizing for Juve from the penalty spot after Ante Rebic’s opener. Both players stole again the stage tonight, but not in the way that one would expect.
Cristiano failed to convert a penalty this time – a quite uncommon event in the career of the Genius of Madeira – whereas Milan’s Croatian striker produced himself in a clumsy, vicious tackle on Danilo which earned him a direct red and basically voided his side’s possibilities of coming out of the Allianz Stadium as the winner.
The outcome of the first calcio match post-COVID-19 pandemic, 96 days after the ball had stopped rolling in the Belpaese, was decided in one minute – between the 14th and the 15th – as Rebic left his side with one man less just after Gianluigi Donnarumma, with the help of his right post, had deflected Cristiano Ronaldo’s attempted penalty conversion.
The Rossoneri – already deprived of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – were left with no true striker until Stefano Pioli decided to send in Rafael Leao a few minutes after the half time break. That was too little for Milan to create any serious threat to Gianluigi Buffon, who enjoyed a comfortable night out as he watched his side putting the Rossoneri to the ropes for the full first half and then controlling their comeback in the second.
The night at the Allianz Stadium started with an emotional homage to three medical professional representatives, who lined up at midfield before the game as the 22 players encircled them and applauded them after observing one minute of silence in memory of the coronavirus victims.
Italy has been one of the countries most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 34000 lives so far. Honoring those who have been fighting it on the front-line was the minimum the privileged world of football could do.
Juventus started aggressively, with Alex Sandro and Douglas Costa taking control of the left flank and Milan’s Davide Calabria struggling to restrain them. From one of their cross from the left side, Andrea Conti touched the ball with an elbow. Referee Daniele Orsato didn’t seem to notice that, but after checking the VAR he awarded a penalty to the Bianconeri.
Most football fans – at least those who don’t support the white-and-blacks – must surely have thought about one of the most classic calcio clichés. Here we go again. Football restarts in Italy after 96 days, and the first thing that happen is a penalty for Juve…
The next thing they knew, however, was something totally unexpected, as Cristiano Ronaldo directed his shot right into Gianluigi Donnarumma’s right post, with Milan’s portierone perhaps decisively deflecting it. Still, Milan aficionados didn’t even have the time to celebrate as in the very next action Ante Rebic knocked Danilo down with an absurd karate kick. Rebic’s face as Orsato waved a red card at him was like “I don’t even understand what the heck I just did.”
With 75 minutes to go and a one-man advantage, all Juventus had to do was to control the game, but Maurizio Sarri’s boys looked for the KO. Donnarumma used his instinct to push back a volley by Blaise Matuidi, then easily blocked a curl by Cristiano Ronaldo in the 38th minute.
That was the only additional spark in CR7’s abulic night. In the 53rd minute, Ronaldo was also blocked by a perfectly-timed slide by Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli which elicited some virtual applause of the empty Allianz Stadium.
As Juventus slowed down and a beheaded Milan side took more courage, both lineups were reshuffled by multiple changes – up to five per side are being allowed for the remainder of the season. Maurizio Sarri completely reshaped his midfield line in the 61st minute as he sent in simultaneously Adrien Rabiot, Federico Bernardeschi, and Sami Khedira.
After sending in Rafael Leao in place of Giacomo Bonaventura – who didn’t exactly take it well – Stefano Pioli added more muscles to his front-line by deploying 18-year-old prospect, Lorenzo Colombo. Rade Krunic, Diego Laxalt, and Alexis Saelemakers also took the field later in the game. Despite gaining more confidence in the second half, however, the Rossoneri never came to threaten Buffon’s goal – except for a header by Hakan Calhanoglu right after the restart which missed the goal target by a few inches.
Juventus, on the other hand, came closer to draw first blood. In the 70th minute, it was Simon Kjaer’s turn to save the day for the Rossoneri as he anticipated Matthijs De Ligt and prevented his point-blank range header. Maurizio Sarri could, however, be happy with the outcome as he achieved the maximum result with the minimum effort, at the end of a slow-paced game which was inevitably influenced by both club’s long absence from the pitch.
On June 17, Juventus will face at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome the winner of tomorrow’s Semi-Final between Napoli and Inter, which will restart from Gennaro Gattuso’s Azzurri‘s one-goal lead they conquered in the first leg.
June 12, 2020 – Coppa Italia 2019-2020 Semi-Final
|JUVENTUS (4-3-3): Buffon; Danilo (86′ Cuadrado), Bonucci, De Ligt, Alex Sandro; Bentancur, Pjanic (63′ Khedira), Matuidi (63′ Rabiot); Douglas Costa (63′ Bernardeschi), Cristiano Ronaldo, Dybala (Szczesny; Pinsoglio, De Sciglio, Rugani, Olivieri, Muratore, Vrioni, Zanimacchia) Coach: Sarri|
|MILAN (4-2-3-1): G. Donnarumma; Conti (88′ Saelemaekers), Romagnoli, Kjaer, Calabria (88′ Laxalt); Kessié (83′ Krunic), Bennacer; Paquetà (83′ Colombo), Calhanoglu, Bonaventura (53′ Rafael Leao); Rebic (Begovic, A. Donnarumma, Biglia, Gabbia, Olzer, Brescianini, Maldini) Coach: Pioli|
REFEREE: Mr. Orsato from Schio
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Pjanic, Khedira (J); Red Card: Rebic (M); Extra Time: 1st Half 3′, 2nd Half 4′