AC Milan put one foot in the Champions League knockout with a comfortable victory against Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday night.
Matteo Gabbia, Rafael Leao and Oliver Giroud all got on the scoresheet before an unfortunate Robert Ljubicic own-goal rounded off a comfortable 4-0 win for the Italians.
With the stakes so high for both teams, the majority of the first half was played similarly to a chess match; cagey.
Ante Rebic found himself in acres of space in the Zagreb penalty area before squandering the best chance of the opening period.
With the ball at his feet in front of goal – instead of pulling the trigger quickly – he tried to weave around the outside of the two defenders between him and the goal, but was too slow in doing so and had his low shot blocked.
Milan gradually grew into the game after a cautious start, and opened the scoring through Gabbia. He made a clever run to meet a wonderful Sandro Tonali free-kick to guide a smart header beyond Dominik Livakovic and into the bottom left corner.
Despite a slow start, Milan took control of the game after 49 minutes when Leao drove into the Zagreb penalty box and finished smartly at the near post to double the visitors lead.
Giroud dispatched a penalty on the hour mark to put the game to bed after Ljubicic brought down Tonali, and the latter was on the end of an unfortunate incident ten minutes later when he scored an own goal to make it four.
Ljubicic was in the wrong place at the wrong time as a Leao cross ricocheted off Giroud in the box, popped up, and diverted into the goal via the defender.
Milan had the chances to stretch their lead to five or six, but a spirited second half showing from Livakovic kept the deficit down.
The result means Milan move up to second in Group E, a point clear of third place Salzburg going into the final round of matches, while Zagreb lie bottom of the table.
TALKING POINT – MILAN CLOSE IN ON QUALIFICATION
After tonight’s results in Group E, Milan are one step away from the Champions League knockout rounds. Chelsea were victorious in their away tie against Salzburg to book their spot in the last 16, and thanks to Milan’s result, are confirmed group winners.
Milan have overtaken Salzburg and have climbed to second, which means they only need a point against the Germans in Milan next week to qualify.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – SANDRO TONALI (AC MILAN)
Tonali was the stand-out player on the night and had the biggest impact for Milan. He was responsible for grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and pushing the visitors towards a convincing win after a cautious start.
Gabbia steered home a header smartly to open the scoring, but it was all about the assist from Tonali. He floated the ball from a free kick 25 yards out across the danger zone, where Gabbia had made a smart run before guiding Tonali’s cross beyond Livakovic
He also won the penalty for the third, which was taken excellently by Giroud to put the game to bed.
ZAGREB: Livakovic 7, Ristovski 6, Sutalo 7, Peric 6, Moharrami 7, Ljubicic 5, Ivanusec 7, Misic 7, Ademi 6, Petkovic 7, Orsic 6
Subs: Baturina 6, Bockaj 6, Bulat 6, Drmic 6, Spikic 6
MILAN: Tatarusanu 8, Hernandez 8, Kjaer 7, Gabbia 8, Kalulu 8, Tonali 9, Bennacer 8, De Ketelaere 6, Rebic 7, Leao 8, Giroud 8
Subs: Ballo 6, Pobega 6, Krunic 6, Origi 6, Messias 6
27’ – HUGE CHANCE MILAN! – Rebic gets the ball into his feet in the Zagreb penalty box and instead of getting a shot away quickly, tries to dribble it around the outside of the two defenders between him and the goal, but is far too slow in doing so and his low shot is blocked.
39’ – GOAL! DINAMO ZAGREB 0-1 AC MILAN (GABBIA) – Gabbia gets on the end of a superb Tonali free-kick to guide a header into the bottom left corner and put Milan ahead!
49’ – GOAL! DINAMO ZAGREB 0-2 AC MILAN (LEAO) – Leao gets slightly fortunate as he drives past four almost unresponsive Zagreb defenders, with two bumping into each other, but still has lots to do as he smartly slots the ball home at the near post.
57’ – MILAN PENALTY! – This could be game over. Ljubicic brings down Tonali and is booked in the process.
59’ – GOAL! DINAMO ZAGREB 0-3 AC MILAN (GIROUD) – Never in doubt! Giroud puts his penalty into the top left corner to put the game to bed!
69’ – GOAL! DINAMO ZAGREB 0-4 AC MILAN (LJUBICIC O.G.) – That’s horrendously unlucky! Leao puts in a cross, which Giroud misses, but the ball pops up off the Frenchman and hits the face of Ljubicic – who had made a full pitch-length run back to defend – and ricochet’s into the back of the net