Assi di Coppe – 1234 Days Later…

Assi di Coppe (“Aces of Cups”) is the Cult of Calcio’s section dedicated to Italian team appearances in Champions League and Europa League. We start tonight with commenting AC Milan’s 2017-2018 debut in the second continental league.

1234 days. That’s exactly how long it had been since last time AC Milan players stepped into the pitch for an European cup match. The spell was broken tonight with a convincing 1-0 away victory against Universitatea Craiova from Romania.

The first Italian team to inaugurate its European campaign for the upcoming season, in the 3rd Preliminary Round of Europa League, was the one that had been waiting for it the longest. On March 13, 2014, AC Milan left the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid after having been hammered by Atletico 4-1. That was the end of Milan’s European run and the beginning of some prolonged dark times.

Curious that their opponents tonight were a Team that has seen better days as well. Romanian side Universitatea Craiova boasts a domestic league title, a few appearances in Champions Cup / Champions League, and a surprising run up to the Semi Finals in the 1982-83 edition of defunct UEFA Cup.

But those days are gone, and while the Romanians proved to be a worth opponent, AC Milan controlled the game with little hassle and gained victory thanks to a malicious free kick from new joiner left back “R2” Ricardo Rodriguez.

Rossoneri’s new management moved lightning fast on the transfer market with the aim of delivering coach Vincenzo Montella an almost complete team by the time of their very early European debut. But some of the most awaited new joiners – namely Leonardo Bonucci and Luca Biglia – could not make it to the UEFA squad registration list for this round, and this forced Montella to line up an interesting mix of newcomers and veterans.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma seems to have left the days of this troubled contract renewal behind his back, and saved the day when the score was still 0-0. Mateo Musacchio, who just joined from Villarreal, showed that he has what it takes to become the new leader or Rossoneri’s defense. On the left back side, Ricardo Rodriguez could not have imagined a better debut.

Quite surprisingly, coach Montella decided to include in his strikers starting line-up the likely-to-leave M’Baye Niang and Primavera team rising star Patrick Cutrone. Both did show encouraging moves, and the latter went very close to score AC Milan’s first official goal of the season when a shot of his hit the post. They could both turn out to be useful over the course of the season.

AC Milan and Universitatea Craiova will square off again for the 2nd leg next week in San Siro. 47000 Rossoneri supporters have already bought their ticket for what will be Milan’s first European home match in 3 years. But the long wait is almost over.