Mario Balotelli hailed AC Milan's collective spirit after a "very good duel" saw the Rossoneri progress at AFC Ajax's expense after a 0-0 draw, with Bojan Krkić admitting: "It hurts."
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AC Milan are "proving to be a great group", Mario Balotelli told UEFA.com after the Rossoneri held off AFC Ajax for a 0-0 draw to book a place in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 despite playing with ten men for almost 70 minutes.
The Italy striker did not score but his hard work was crucial for the sole Serie A survivors of the group stage as the Dutch visitors pushed hard for the goal which would enable them to leapfrog Milan into second place in Group H. "The only way to get the result tonight was to defend well," Balotelli explained. Meanwhile, Ajax could only regret their profligacy after dictating in the San Siro. "Only the goal was missing," admitted forward Viktor Fischer.
Mario Balotelli, Milan forward
We had to go through a lot, especially after [Riccardo] Montolivo was sent off. We had to defend and we showed great character. Today it was difficult to score and the only way to get the result was to defend well. It depends from game to game, but today we were forced to defend with ten men – we are a good group and we are showing it in every game. It was a very good duel today. Other Italian teams could have progressed, I am sorry for them, but I am happy for us. We have done well in Europe but now we must do well in the domestic league.
Cristián Zapata, Milan defender
It was very difficult but finally we managed to defend the result and qualify for the round of 16. It was a very good team performance with every player working hard and running a lot for the entire 90 minutes. I think we have to do exactly the same in Serie A, which we haven't always managed to do this season. When you play like a team, all united as we were tonight, it is difficult to lose. There are many great teams among the ones we can face in the next round, so let us hope and see who we get.
Christian Abbiati, Milan goalkeeper
When Ajax hit the post early on, I thought it was a good sign for us. I think all of us gave 100% tonight. We did not give them many chances, I think our qualification is fully deserved because we played some good games in the group and we lost only away to Barcelona. I think Balotelli was very good in helping the team defend tonight. He did a great job. We will have to play with the same spirit in the round of 16.
Viktor Fischer, Ajax midfielder
Only the goal was missing. I think we played a good game. We had the right spirit, we wanted to win, we believed we could win for all 90 minutes. We needed one goal but we did not get it today. Maybe we needed some cool in front of goal. I had some good chances myself, but it was not our night. We can be proud of what we have done but tonight we needed a goal and we cannot use this draw for anything.
When you meet a team like Milan who can defend this well, maybe it is not so good if they go a man down. Maybe it was better 11 against 11, still I think we had a very good second half. We played very well, we did what we wanted. In the last 15 minutes we used more long balls – I think it worked pretty well but again we needed a goal and it never came.
It is about being better next season and I think we have learned a lot. Next time, when we play these important games, we will be even better and that is the most important thing. Maybe next year we can advance to the second stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Bojan Krkić, Ajax forward
It hurts to be eliminated from the Champions League, I think we played a very good game today. We tried hard and gave everything we had. Only the goal was missing. Still, I think we can be satisfied with the way we played in this group stage, as we were as close as it gets to qualifying. The red card was a blow for Milan but they still managed to defend well and to earn the point they needed. We failed with the last pass probabaly. As I said, we are disappointed but now we must focus on the Europa League.