FC Zürich pulled off one of the shocks of the UEFA Champions League group stage as Hannu Tihinen's tenth-minute goal earned the Swiss titleholders a memorable win at AC Milan.
Tihinen's touch of impudence – a back-heel from Milan Gajić's corner – stunned the Rossoneri, who created enough chances to equalise in an excitingly open match, but found ill fortune and an inspired Johnny Leoni in their way at every occasion. The Finnish international's goal proved enough to earn Zürich their first Group C victory, lifting them to second place, above Milan on head-to-head record thanks to this result.
Milan, despite shaky domestic form, began with the composure of a side seasoned in European football and came close to a breakthrough when Ignazio Abate, on his first UEFA Champions League start, sent over a right-wing cross which almost fooled Leoni, who cleared off the line with his feet. Yet it was Leoni's opposite number Marco Storari who was most surprised when, from their first corner, Zürich took the lead as Tihinen steered in Gajić's centre with a clever back-flick.
Storari was furious at his team-mates, who responded by charging upfield and creating a chance for Filippo Inzaghi. The prominent Clarence Seedorf combined with Marek Jankulovski, whose pass to the far post eluded the stretching Inzaghi by fractions. Seedorf himself blazed over after Pato had teed him up midway through the first period, and Inzaghi glanced a header wide from another quality Abate delivery. As the Italian outfit turned the screw, Seedorf tried his luck again, blasting a 20-metre shot narrowly wide.
It was by no means one-way traffic though: Dušan Djurić, Silvan Aegerter and Gajić causing the hosts problems with their quick passing and movement. Indeed, Zürich looked the stronger of the sides as the half progressed. Djurić had already fired wide on 14 minutes before Xavier Margairaz sent an even better opportunity over the bar following a slick interchange and, on the stroke of half-time, Gajić elicited a diving stop from Storari.
Coach Leonardo introduced Ronaldinho at the break and Milan soon upped the tempo. Within minutes, the Brazilian had warmed Leoni's palms with a powerful free-kick. The Zürich No1 saved again on 58 minutes, brilliantly turning Inzaghi's goal-bound header away from the top corner. Nor could Inzaghi believe his luck seven minutes later when he met Ambrosini's cut-back only for Leoni's feet to deny him. During the onslaught, Pato had also raced on to Ronaldinho's slide-rule pass, only to chip narrowly wide.
To the rescue
Against the run of play, Milan were almost caught out when Margairaz hared through on goal but Storari's left foot kept his side in the match. Two-nil would have been an unfair reflection of events and, as the Serie A giants poured forward late on, Ambrosini and Inzaghi both came agonisingly close to equalising with the seconds ticking down. Gianluca Zambrotta even hit a post with a curling effort, but the night belonged to Zürich.