WEDNESDAY 28TH AUGUST – GROUP H
AJAX 1-1 AC MILAN
A late Stefano Denswil’s goal looked to have sealed the victory for the hosts but Mario Balotelli’s nerveless penalty earned a draw for the Serie A giants.
Rookie defender Denswil looked to have secured a fine triumph when he rose magnificently to power Danish substitute Lasse Schöne’s corner beyond the previously unbeatable Christian Abbiati. However, talisman Balotelli had other ideas. The former Manchester City striker, who had earlier hit the bar, was brought down by substitute Mike van der Hoorn. The Italian kept his cool as he calmly stroked in the spot kick with customary aplomb.
The Amsterdammers had much the better of the first half against a strangely lacklustre Milan side. The boisterous Amsterdam Arena crowd almost had a goal to cheer after only five minutes, but Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, released by Lerin Duarte’s clever pass, shot against the goalkeeper’s legs.
Frank de Boer’s men continued to force Milan back into their own half, and left-back Daley Blind showed some fine footwork before slipping the ball to Danish youngster Viktor Fischer, who lashed an effort from 20 metres that only just evaded Abbiati’s left-hand post.
The first hint of an attack from the Rossoneri arrived on the half-hour mark, Kévin Constant managing to get in behind the Ajax back-line on the right, though his weak low cross was gathered comfortably by Jasper Cillessen. Back came Ajax, first with a Duarte free-kick that was palmed over by Abbiati and, seconds later, through a strike from Niklas Moisander that rose just too high.
After the half-time team talks, Massimiliano Allegri’s men began the second half a different team. Cillessen showed admirable reflexes to beat away Riccardo Montolivo’s close-range flick, then Balotelli’s free-kick cannoned off the wall and onto the roof of the net. The home side rallied, Sigthórsson heading Siem de Jong’s cross straight at Abbiati, though Balotelli came closest of all just after the hour. Cutting in from the left, he curled a beautiful shot that Cillessen tipped against the underside of the bar.
With the game seemingly heading towards a goaless draw, the last few minutes offered extraordinary drama. First Denswil’s header, his first goal for the club, sent the Amsterdam ArenA into an ecstasy replaced by agony when Balotelli coolly slotted in.
Click the name above to follow Will on Twitter.