Ismaël Bennacer's first-half strike gave AC Milan a narrow first-leg win at home to ten-man Napoli in an all-Italian Champions League quarter-final.
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AC Milan survived early pressure from Napoli to seize a narrow advantage in their all-Italian Champions League quarter-final, scoring a goal on the counterattack by Ismaël Bennacer before the visitors were reduced to ten men late on.
1': Calabria blocks Kvaratskhelia shot with goal gaping
4': Maignan tips Zambo Anguissa effort over
12': Milan goalkeeper pushes away Zieliński drive
40': Bennacer fires Milan ahead on counterattack
45 +3': Kjær heads against underside of crossbar
74': Zambo Anguissa dismissed for second yellow
87': Olivera heads cross just too high
Match in brief: Efficient Milan see off Napoli
Perhaps motivated by their 4-0 domestic defeat in this fixture ten days earlier, Napoli set off at a blistering pace, almost scoring with less than a minute played when Khvicha Kvaratskhelia's close-range shot was blocked by Davide Calabria; Mike Maignan then had to tip André-Frank Zambo Anguissa's strike over the crossbar.
Brahim Díaz turned the tide, launching a lightning counterattack with a superb spin on the halfway line to begin a move that culminated in Ismaël Bennacer – deployed in a more attacking position than usual – firing past Alex Meret.
The goal unsettled the visitors, who almost fell further behind when Simon Kjær headed Bennacer's corner against the underside of the crossbar on the stroke of half-time.
The runaway Serie A leaders applied plenty of pressure throughout the second half, although that lessened after Zambo Anguissa was dismissed in the 74th minute for two bookings in quick succession.
Maignan still had to rescue Milan late on, pawing away Giovanni Di Lorenzo's header before the unmarked Mathías Olivera went close from a cross. The Rossoneri held on, ensuring they will take a narrow advantage to Naples on Tuesday, when Napoli will also be without Kim Min-jae through suspension after the defender's late booking.
PlayStation® Player of the Match: Brahim Díaz (Milan)
Whenever he was on the ball, he showed the brilliance needed to make the difference between two very evenly-matched teams. He changed the momentum of the game with a brilliantly-executed goal.
UEFA Technical Observer panel
Paolo Menicucci, Milan reporter
Milan had to suffer for most of the first half against a strong Napoli side who dominated for long spells. After taking the lead, however, the Rossoneri started to play better and could even have added more had they been more precise. The tie remains wide open, especially if Napoli have Victor Osimhen back for the return leg. A 1-0 win in the first leg was enough for Milan against Tottenham in the previous round. More of the same to reach the semi-finals? After all, Milan have now kept five consecutive Champions League clean sheets.
Vieri Capretta, Napoli reporter
How Napoli didn't score remains a mystery. The visitors were the better side for most of the game, created chances and battled throughout, but it wasn't enough to avoid defeat. All Spalletti's men lacked were goals, but now they have a difficult task at home without some key players.
Stefano Pioli, Milan coach: "There is still a 50% chance to progress. We have another finely-balanced game to look forward to. My only regret is not scoring a second goal."
Fikayo Tomori, MIlan defender: "We are happy with the result. We are well aware that the job is not finished; we must be ready for the next match. Entering the pitch with these fans is a special emotion. They give us confidence and give us emotions that allow us to take the pitch with energy and give our all."
Simon Kjær, Milan defender: “The atmosphere tonight was fantastic. We play for nights like this. I expect another difficult game at Napoli – very balanced, like tonight. We will certainly give everything to qualify."
Luciano Spalletti, Napoli coach: "We had a great attitude, I want to congratulate my players for their performance. It's what I expected. I need to work on what happened in the game. We had the right attitude overall. Sometimes things go well, other times they don't. Elmas worked hard defensively, making life hard for Milan. So, of course, Osimhen might have had more chances than someone who is less used to playing in that position, but Elmas was important."
Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Napoli captain: "It wasn't easy without a real number nine, though we created many chances with Elmas. We're confident for the return leg. Maignan is a great keeper – he saved many chances. But we had the right attitude."
Eljif Elmas, Napoli midfielder, speaking to Sky Sport: "We can turn things around in the return leg because we have a strong mentality, strong players and a strong coach. We knew Milan are a great side. We gave a good performance and need to replicate it at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona."
Peter Crouch, BT Sport
Milan were good for their victory. Although Napoli had chances, they didn't quite create enough. The fact Milan created chances will give them confidence going into the second leg.
- Milan have won six of their previous eight UEFA Champions League quarter-final ties.
- The Rossoneri are unbeaten in first-leg matches at this stage (W4 D4).
- Bennacer scored his first UEFA Champions League goal on his 14th appearance in the competition.
- Pioli's side are unbeaten in their last five Champions League matches, keeping clean sheets in all of them and winning four.
- Napoli lost for only the second time in nine Champions League matches this season.
- They failed to score for the second time in 18 UEFA club competition matches.
Simon Kjær – 9 points
Fikayo Tomori – 8 points
Ismaël Bennacer – 8 points
Milan: Maignan; Calabria, Kjær, Tomori, Hernández; Krunić, Tonali; Brahim Díaz (Rebić 80), Bennacer (Saelemaekers 67), Rafael Leão; Giroud
Napoli: Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Kim, Mário Rui (Olivera 81); Zambo Anguissa, Lobotka, Zieliński (Ndombélé 81); Lozano (Raspadori 69), Elmas, Kvaratskhelia (Politano 81)
The second leg takes place in Naples on Tuesday 18 April. The aggregate winners play Benfica or Inter in the semi-finals on Tuesday/Wednesday 9/10 and Tuesday/Wednesday 16/17 May, playing the first leg at home.