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It may not have been a vintage performance, but Andrea Pirlo was delighted at the attitude shown by AC Milan after they dug deep to secure a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid CF in UEFA Champions League Group C. "Even though we went a goal down, we kept our heads up and never lost belief," he said.
Following the 3-2 defeat of their Spanish opponents a fortnight ago, Milan were determined to hold on to their lead at the top of the section, but in order to do so Leonardo's side had to withstand a sustained Madrid onslaught, which produced an opening goal for Karim Benzema on 29 minutes. The floodgates threatened to open, but instead of capitulating, the hosts hit back thanks to a Ronaldinho penalty and some determined defending from Pirlo and his team-mates.
"It was an exciting match which was enjoyable to play in with chances for both sides," said Pirlo. "We both wanted to win but in the end we were forced to settle for a point. The result was important but so was playing well in front of our home fans and we're satisfied we did that. The best thing about tonight's match was the spirit we showed. Even though we went a goal down, we kept our heads up, never lost belief and showed the desire to get back in the game. In the second half we created a few chances to win the match too."
The result leaves Milan level on seven points with Madrid at the top of the section and just a point ahead of Olympique de Marseille, following the French club's 6-1 rout of FC Zürich. "The group is still tight but we have a good chance of qualifying for the knockout stage because our next match is against Marseille at home," added Pirlo, a seasoned campaigner with 97 UEFA club matches to his name. "It will be a tricky encounter but playing them in front of our own fans will help."
Although best known for his playmaking skills Pirlo was called upon to help shield the back four – a mission he accomplished to good effect alongside Massimo Ambrosini. "It was important for Ambrosini and I to stop any balls coming through and we did that well, but the whole side ran themselves ragged to hassle and harry," said the 30-year-old. "Pato and Ronaldinho on the flanks gave us a huge hand and if we keep going like this we'll be fine."
Milan's achievement was all the more impressive for the fact they had to contain 2007 Ballon d'Or winner, Kaká. The Brazilian did get away from his former team-mates once, though, to set up Benzema's strike on what was a largely happy homecoming for the ex-Rossoneri playmaker. "Coming back here felt great," he said, fresh from embracing a long line of old friends outside the changing rooms at the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium, his home for six seasons. "It was another incredible San Siro experience. The fans gave me a fantastic welcome. It was the first time back, so it was strange seeing all my old team-mates, so many friends. But it was a nice experience; two very special days in Milan."
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