AC Milan were forced to come from behind in Austria as they opened their Champions League campaign with a 1-1 draw against RB Salzburg.
The seven-time European champions had Alexis Saelemaekers to thank for a thumping finish as they picked up a point, despite being largely wasteful in front of goal.
Rafael Leao was inches away from winning at the death, but the Milan winger’s stoppage-time strike was deflected off the post.
The opening exchanges were end-to-end, but both sides struggled with their final ball and therefore spurned numerous attacks from promising positions.
The only real chance fell to the visitors, as Olivier Giroud got around the back of the defence, only to shoot straight at the goalkeeper from a tight angle.
Salzburg eventually took the lead on 28-minutes when Fernando stole the ball from the Milan back line and passed to strike partner Noah Okafor, who nutmegged Pierre Kalulu before firing under Mike Maignan.
That advantage had been wiped out by half-time though, as Saelemaekers hammered into the back of the net from Rafael Leao’s pass.
Salzburg should have re-taken the lead straight after the break, but Fernando could not find the target when blazing over from close range after good build-up play involving Okafor and Maurits Kjaergaard.
That proved to be one of very few chances for Matthias Jaissle’s side, though, as they largely allowed their visitors to do the running.
Even with so much possession, AC Milan lacked a cutting edge. Former Liverpool star Divock Origi came off the bench but was starved of service, with the Italians largely resorting to shooting from long distance, without troubling Philipp Kohn in goal.
In the end, the final big save came at the other end as Maignan pushed away a powerful drive from Nicolas Seiwald, who tried his luck from 30-yards.
TALKING POINT – COULD SOMEBODY TAKE A PUNT ON OKAFOR?
Real Madrid are one of the so-called ‘big boys’ reportedly interested in the 22-year old, and it’s easy to see why as he put in another big display on the big stage by scoring his fifth goal of the season.
The Switzerland international, who netted three times during Salzburg’s run to the round of 16 in the Champions League last year, arrived in Austria from Basel in 2020 and has been a key figure in helping his side win the last two Bundesliga titles.
Averaging around a goal every three games, he was sometimes isolated in this fixture as the hosts sat deep, wary of AC Milan’s attacking prowess, but he took his goal superbly and also played a big hand in a Fernando chance in the second half that was blasted wide.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – FIKAYO TOMORI (AC MILAN)
The defender has won three England caps so far, and with a World Cup on the horizon, he might be coming into form at the right time after another impressive display.
The 24-year old, who started his professional career with Chelsea, did not have an easy night up against the pace and trickery of Okafor and Fernando, but he marshalled them well, limiting their shooting opportunities.
His speed, height and strength have made him a mainstay of the AC Milan defence and, in his third season in Italy, he will surely be capturing the attention of Gareth Southgate.
SALZBURG: Kohn 6; Dedic 6, Solet 6, Pavlovic 7, Ulmer 7; Capaldo 6, Seiwald 7, Kjaergaard 7, Kameri 7; Fernando 7, Okafor 8. Subs: Bernardo 6, Gourna-Douath 6, Sesko 6, Adamu n/a
AC MILAN: Maignan 7; Calabria 6, Kalulu 7, Tomori 8, Hernandez 7; Tonali 6, Bennacer 6; Saelemaekers 7, De Ketelaere 7, Leao 6; Giroud 6. Subs: Origi 6, Pobega 5, Dest 6, Diaz n/a, Messias n/a
28’ GOAL! SALZBURG 1-0 AC MILAN (Okafor). Fernando picks the defender’s pocket on the edge of the area and feeds Okafor, who nutmegs Pierre Kalulu and then slots under Maignan. 1-0!
40’ GOAL! SALZBURG 1-1 AC MILAN (Saelemaekers). Oh, that’s lovely football from AC Milan. Rafael Leao cuts inside and passes to Saelemaekers near the penalty spot. The Belgian takes one touch to get it out of his feet and then smashes into the bottom corner
54’ WHAT A CHANCE FOR FERNANDO. Okafor is a player, isn’t he? He picks the ball up on the half-way line and surges forward before off-loading to Maurits Kjaergaard. His first time ball finds Fernando at the back post, but the striker blazes over the bar
63’ GOOD SAVE FROM MAIGNAN. Nicolas Seiwald receives the ball 35-yards out and, noticing that nobody is bothering to close him down, he unleashes a powerful low shot that Maignan does well to palm away when diving low to his left
90+4’ OFF THE POST! Wow! What a let off for Salzburg, in the last minute of added time! Leao, who’s done barely anything tonight, has a shot from distance that takes a deflection and rattles the woodwork