Gazzetta dello Sport will have to forgive me, but that title features the best one-word summary for Sunday’s evening match, a Milan-Napoli full of excitement like we have rarely seen in 2008. Ok I’m exaggerating: the year has only just begun, but boy did the Rossoneri set a high standard tonight!!! Painted in the golden colours of the Brazilian national jersey (stellar performances by Kaká and Ronaldo) and the shoes of a little boy from Pato Branco. At the cost of repeating myself: simply (P)ATOmic!!
Many of the San Siro faithful (president Silvio Berlusconi included) were hoping for a night of music & dancing, accompanied by the frenetic sound of a Samba that only the simultaneous use of KakÃ , Ronaldo and Pato could bring. However, this past week few pundits would have bet their money of the presence of Ronaldo in the starting line-up, especially since the Brazilian star had just fully recovered from his injury, and that Alberto Gilardino had been playing consistently well this past month (c.f. the double against U.A.E. in Dubai last week). Too bad for Gila, because tonight was to be a night of “firsts”: the first full use of Ronaldo since his injury, the first match of the “duck” wonderkid from Porto Alegre, the first use of the Brazilian trio of wonders, and… more importantly… the first San Siro home win of AC MIlan in the 2007-08 season!
It only took 45 seconds for the “Auriverde connection” to provide the first sparks: Ronaldo pass for Pato, but a foul on Paolo Cannavaro stopped the youngster’s verve right on the spot. Pato’s desire to shine in his first official Rossoneri display was all too evident, and besides it was really hard for anyone to miss his presence tonight, on account of the bright yellow football boots the kid is known to be wearing. But exit Pato for a moment, because the two other Milan Brazilians hadn’t come here to watch either: minute 10, through ball by Kaká for Ronaldo, but one touch too many for the striker allowed goalkeeper Gennaro Iezzo to neutralize the threat. 5 minute later however, the Rossoneri struck gold.
From Pirlo to Ronaldo once again, inside the box, control and turn by Ronaldo right at the keeper who managed a save with his legs. The ball looped up into a bell-shaped curve that seemed to be heading straight under the crossbar! Pato was there to deposit the ball into the net, but a spectacular clearance by György Garics denied the Rossoneri the goal… or did it? Replays showed that the ball had crossed the line, and kudos to the linesman for spotting it. 1-0 Milan, on somewhat fortunate circumstances but certainly no steal based on the level of play thus far.
Unfortunately for Ancelotti, his boys dropped their guard just enough for Napoli to equalize 7 minutes later. On a beautifully-executed counterattack, from Bogliacino to Ezequiel Lavezzi on the right wing, the Argentine striker flicked a beautiful first-time pass to the center for compatriot Roberto “El Pampa” Sosa, who made the poked finish past Dida look easy. 1-1.
Tonight however, there was decidedly no time to breathe. In minute 31 (i.e. 3 minutes later) cue the Milan samba show once again, from Ronaldo to Pato for a double penetrating pass which each time found a) the bad luck of a less-than-perfect finish, and b) two absolutely miraculous saves of Iezzo on the youngster’s shots. No worries for the Milan faithful however, because on the 3rd attempt Clarence Seedorf left little chance to the keeper as he slammed the ball below the crossbar for the 2-1 tally.
Pato had the chance to redeem himself a few minutes later, when exploiting a good Seedorf overlap he armed a left-footed shot onto the first post, but Iezzo denied the striker once again from a difficult angle. In fact, what could have been the 3-1 goal for Milan transformed into the 2-2 goal for Napoli: deep ball by Domizzi to Lavezzi on the left wing, with the Argentine making a lightning-fast run which should surprise no one at this point. No one except Kakha Kaladze, who in an attempt to stop the Argentine from reaching the ball, actually clashed against him inside the box. P.K. Maurizio Domizzi transformed the spot-kick to tie the game back to 2-2.
Wow. 45 minutes and 4 goals at the break. If the 2nd half was going to be anything like the 1st, the 70,000 supporters of Stadio San Siro would have surely gotten their ticket money’s worth. Not that 4 goals wasn’t going to be enough mind you, but why stop there?
That’s the same thing Ronaldo thought probably, because he only needed 1 minute after the restart to put Milan ahead once again. A few dribbling moves on the left wing hypnotized the Napoli defense, and allowed Seedorf to execute a perfect cross on which Ronaldo‘s bigger-than-usual-head (on account of the stylish afro the Brazilian is currently displaying) connected to send the ball past Iezzo. 3-2.
Unlike the first half, Napoli didn’t manage to find the resources to come back from behind a third goal. Instead, Milan were just getting started. In minute 68, some good teamplay by the Rossoneri brought the ball to Seedorf, close to the left wing corner. Ensued a 4-touch sequence that brought about Milan goal nº4: the Dutch midfielder backheeled the ball for Favalli, who immediately spotted Kaká on the edge of the box, the Brazilian controlled, turned around Gargano, and slammed a low powerful shot inside the first post. 4-2!
The Samba show wasn’t complete though… one more Brazilian had to get on the scoreboard, for the real festivities to begin. Minute 74 granted that wish. Exploiting a perfect one-time long pass from Favalli, AC Milan’s “duck” controlled the ball, got rid of Domizzi, and beat Iezzo with an instep shot in quick succession. A true striker’s goal, and the well-deserved reward for Pato‘s immense efforts of the night.
5-2 Milan, let the party in San Siro begin!
Marco Pantanella writes for the mCalcio blog