A splendid defensive display allied with second-half goals from Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari earned AC Milan a 2-0 win against FC Barcelona in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie.
Having faced the Azulgrana four times in the competition last season, Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri's inside knowledge paid off as his team prevented the visitors scoring for just the second time in any competition this term. Their resilience was rewarded with Boateng's 57th-minute opener, Muntari icing the cake late on to confirm a fourth defeat of the campaign for the Spanish Liga leaders.
Muntari was not so accurate with the first effort of the game, his 25-metre volley flashing well over Víctor Valdés's goal. At the other end, Lionel Messi dribbled past Philippe Mexès with delightful movement only for his left-footed shot to ricochet behind off Muntari.
Milan stayed patient in the face of Barcelona's sustained possession and only pressed hard when the Catalans reached dangerous territory. It was then that they attempted to counterattack, a tactic which nearly paid off on the quarter-hour when a lovely touch from Boateng sent Stephan El Shaarawy free down the left. Though the Italy forward cut into the box, a heavy touch combined with Carles Puyol's timely intervention spelt the end of the chance.
However, the subsequent corner, cleverly delivered low towards the near post by El Shaarawy, was turned towards goal by Boateng but slipped just wide. Barça reassumed control yet remained frustrated by a disciplined home defence, leaving El Shaarawy to go close to converting Boateng's inviting cross from the right.
It was, therefore, little surprise when Allegri's charges took the lead. Riccardo Montolivo received a free-kick from 30 metres out and though his shot struck Cristián Zapata on the edge of the area, the ball fell perfectly for Boateng. The Ghana midfielder beat Valdés with a precise left-footed effort to register his club's 400th European Cup goal.
Milan continued to stand strong at the back thereafter, prompting Andrés Iniesta to try his luck with a long-range drive which flew narrowly wide of Christian Abbiati's left-hand post. With nine minutes left, the hosts rubber-stamped their first victory against Barcelona in their last eight attempts. Substitute M'Baye Niang played in El Shaarawy, who in turn showed delightful poise to tee up Muntari, whose first-time volley left Valdés with no chance. Barcelona have work to do in the 12 March return.
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