A timely tackle from Luca Antonini proved crucial in allowing AC Milan to hold FC Barcelona 0-0 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday, and the Player Rater Top Player told UEFA.com: "I'm happy and proud about the way I played and we played."
The Rossoneri were forced to defend for almost the entire first half at San Siro, where the visitors created one of their biggest opportunities when Alexis Sánchez sprinted unmarked towards the Milan goal from the midfield on 35 minutes. Antonini refused to give up and recovered brilliantly to catch the Barcelona forward in time to block his shot against onrushing Christian Abbiati.
It was just one of several notable contributions in a great night for the 29-year-old left-back. "I saw Sánchez starting his run and fortunately I was alert enough to start running just after him," Antonini said. "He is very fast but I managed to take him.
After my tackle I celebrated as if I had scored a goal because I think it was an important intervention at a key moment in the game."
Despite leaving most of the possession to Barça, Milan had chances themselves to find a first-half breakthrough, one after three minutes when Robinho fired over from close range, the other when Víctor Valdés denied Zlatan Ibrahimović in a one-on-one situation.
"It was a tough game but we managed to close down spaces and counterattack well," Antonini explained. "Unfortunately we didn't manage to score with the opportunities we had.
"It was a strange game as both sides had good chances but failed to take them," the defender continued. "I think our chances were even better than theirs. We prepared well, we knew how to face them and we did it in the best possible way. We played better in the second half, showing that our physical condition is good. We are getting some players back from injury and we can only get better."
Milan will need at least a score draw at Camp Nou next Tuesday to reach the semi-finals without recourse to penalties. Easier said than done, of course. Yet it is something they have already achieved this season, when a late Thiago Silva equaliser salvaged a point on matchday one of the group stage after hosts Barcelona struck twice in reply to Pato's first-minute goal.
"I think we will have to play a similar kind of game," Antonini said. "We will have to defend well and try to score at least one."
Ibrahimović sat out that game in September because of injury, so may now return to Camp Nou for the first time since leaving Barcelona in 2010. "We had some good chances in the first half tonight but we failed to score," the Sweden forward said.
"Still, I think 0-0 is a good result for us.
I won't have to tell my team-mates anything about what to expect at Camp Nou because they have already been there this season. We will have to try to play our own game, I'm positive we can go through."
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