Milan AC will be overwhelming favourites to progress to the fifth round of the UEFA Cup after holding out for a 1-0 first-leg victory at Roda JC's Parkstad Limburg stadium on Tuesday.
The Italian side scored the only goal of the game 29 minutes in when Spanish forward José Mari Romero blasted the ball past Zeljko Kalac after an intelligent ball from Andriy Shevchenko.
Goalkeeper to thank
Despite bitter complaints from Roda players, who felt that Shevchenko was offside, the goal stood and, seemingly spurred on by that decision, the home side took the game to Milan from then on. In the end, the Rossoneri had goalkeeper Christian Abbiati to thank for their victory.
Roda made a promising start when Ioannis Anastasiou, the Greek forward shot from the edge of the Milan penalty area and drew a comfortable save from Abbiati. Ten minutes later, Anastasiou crossed for Bernard Tchoutang but the Cameroonian striker's effort was blocked by Milan defender Roque Junior.
The second half followed a similar pattern, with Roda enjoying the larger share of possession without creating a clear-cut scoring opportunity. Three minutes into the second half, Tchoutang wasted Roda's best opening of the match when he shot high and wide of Abbiati's goal after a good interchange between Marc Nygaard and Anastasiou.
Milan looked less assured defensively after the injured Martin Laursen was withdrawn in the 65th minute and 12 minutes later Roda almost levelled when Abbiati dived low to his right to tip a curled Anastasiou free-kick around a post.
Coach George Leekens urged his Roda players forward as the game drew to a close but, despite valiant efforts, they could not breach the Milan defence. "I was very pleased with the performance," said Leekens after the match. "In the first half we showed too much respect for the great Milan but we left all the respect in the dressing room at the interval and then we showed our true face."
'Didn't have the luck'
"We had a lot of chances in the second half but we didn't have the luck that Milan had, scoring from a half chance," Leekens continued. "We're facing a tough test in the San Siro and it's going to be difficult but we're confident of giving them a tough time. A goal in Italy will be a just reward for our effort."
'Team crisis is over'
Leekens's opposite number, Carlo Ancelotti, acknowledged that his side had been tested for much of the game. "We played a good first half but we were under pressure throughout the second period," he said. "Roda used the long ball to good effect and because of the injury to Laursen we faced some difficult situations. It's always nice to win but there's still a lot of work to do. The team crisis is over with this important victory."
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