A stunning strike from Andriy Shevchenko allowed AC Milan to draw first blood against Real Madrid CF in an enthralling battle of the UEFA Champions League Group C heavyweights at the San Siro.
Carlo Ancelotti left the competition's joint-leading scorer Filippo Inzaghi on the bench in preference to Shevchenko and the Ukrainian vindicated his coach's decision with a superb strike on 40 minutes. Played through beautifully by Rui Costa's defence-splitting pass from within his own half, Shevchenko left Iker Casillas no chance with a powerful low strike into the left corner.
The goal came against the run of play after a series of swift breaks by the European champions who grew in stature as the half progressed. Zinedine Zidane was particularly influential in the Madrid midfield and it was his deftly weighted pass on 26 minutes that presented Fernando Morientes with Madrid's best chance of the half.
Morientes, only in the side through the absence of Ronaldo and Guti, the club's leading scorer in the competition this season, collected the ball eight metres out, but could not lift his shot over Dida from a tight angle.
Milan come close
Milan had controlled the opening stages at a rain-drenched San Siro. Clarence Seedorf saw a rasping strike saved by Casillas after only two minutes and Shevchenko was unlucky not to score 15 minutes later, shooting narrowly wide after a brilliant turn.
Milan turn the screw
Befitting two clubs who have won the European crown 14 times between them, the game ebbed and flowed with chances at both ends, but after the break it was the home side that turned the screw. Prompted by the outstanding Rui Costa, Madrid were forced to withstand wave after wave of Milan attacks and it was the Portuguese international who nearly doubled the score on 52 minutes with a fierce dipping volley that Casillas tipped over the bar at full stretch.
Milan were looking to get Shevchenko in behind the Madrid defence at every opportunity and the visiting side were fortunate not to fall further behind as the Ukrainian, Seedorf then Rui Costa all spurned good chances.
Madrid equaliser ruled out
Madrid, however, began to find a foothold in midfield and against the flow of a one-sided second half, came close to forcing an equaliser. First Dida saved Zidane's low strike from the edge of the box, then with seven minutes remaining, the Frenchman beat Dida to a corner with a header which Raúl González appeared to have touched over the line only for the goal to be disallowed for an infringement by the striker.
Milan hold on
Having survived that scare, Milan took the attack back to Madrid. Kakha Kaladze and Gennaro Gattuso - partnered in midfield by Massimo Ambrosini, chosen in favour of the in-form Andrea Pirlo - might have added to the lead late on, but one goal proved enough. Milan had triumphed in a pulsating encounter, inflicting on a faltering Madrid their fifth match without a win in the Champions League, their worst run in the competition.