Stefano Pioli hailed his “extraordinary” Milan players after they secured a last-gasp 1-1 draw at Manchester United in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie on Thursday (March 11).
United had looked like taking a slender advantage into next week’s second leg at San Siro when teenage substitute Amad Diallo scored after 50 minutes in Manchester. Milan defender Simon Kjaer had other ideas, though, heading home his first goal in 18 European games deep into stoppage time.
It was no less tan they deserved, with the Serie A side carving out 15 shots to the hosts’ seven. The result might have stretched Milan’s winless run against English sides in European competition to eight games, but head coach Pioli was delighted with the Rossoneri’s ability to grind out a late equaliser and believes they deserved even more from the game.
“The team played with personality,” Pioli told Sky Sport Italia. “We suffered in the difficult moments. We know they have quality, but this performance must boost our self-confidence.
“When we were drawn with Manchester United I thought they were the right opponent for us.
“We are working to improve and try to win again. We want to take Milan where we belong and these are the games where you can improve.
“We want to go all the way through and to do so we have to beat these teams. Today’s result is positive, but we have another tough game ahead. The job is not done. They are a great team.
“I am satisfied. I keep repeating to my players that I am not training a regular group. This is an extraordinary group, under any aspect.
“When I see the lads give their soul to get a good result, I can only be happy. It’s probably a result we would have accepted before the game. After it, I can say we may deserve something more, but it’s a good result.
“The team’s spirit was great, we wanted to dominate the game and give our best. We must have a high level of application to play as we do.
“We’ve been playing one game every four days since September, but these guys never give up. We must continue, it’s a crucial part of the season.”
Rafael Leao saw a fifth-minute effort ruled out for offside before a wonderful Franck Kessie volley was chalked off six minutes later after a VAR check spotted the midfielder had handled the ball. Pioli, though, said Kessie was adamant there was no such infringement.
“That goal would have given us more strength, especially on a mental level,” the Milan boss added. “Franck is convinced he didn’t touch the ball with his hand, but the referee thought otherwise.”
Milan – second in the league standings – host Napoli in Serie A on Sunday before the reverse fixture against United on Thursday.
Story by Sammy Wejinya