Champions League: Three of Four Serie A Clubs AdvanceBy: Martha | November 28th, 2007
Thanks to yet another fantastic goal from Andrea Pirlo, Milan took a point from Benfica and booked their place in the knockout round, despite facing a strong challenge from the desperate Portuguese club. The Azzurri magician opened the scoring in the 15th minute with a low shot from 30 yards out, but Benfica leveled almost immediately through Maxi Perreira, who converted his own long-range shot into a goal. The first half remained open, with Rui Costa reportedly causing the unsteady (and very much second-choice) Milan defense all kinds of problems, while Ricky Kaka nearly made it two several times at the other end.
After the half, though, the match quieted down, and Milan appeared happy to take the single point that would see them through. Benfica, though, needed a win and kept pressing forward through ex-Milan man Rui Costa, and Fiorentina oldboy Nuno Gomes, whose form this season has been all over the place, but who apparently woke up in a big way tonight, at least for a little while. The hosts failed to break through against the Milan defense — reinforced at half by the addition of Paolo Maldini — and the visitors even threatened to steal the win through the lively Kaka, but in the end it finished 1-1, and Milan are on their way to the knockout stages. They might, however, be heading home with a couple of new injury problems: Alessandro Nesta twisted a knee late in the match but stayed on, while Ronaldo stopped warming up in the second half to get treatment on his knee. Yikes.
Back home in Italy, Lazio basically needed a win over Olympiacos to keep their hopes of advancement alive, and things started out well for them, with Tommaso Rocchi and Valon Behrami both passing late fitness tests to start the match. Lazio even went ahead on the half-hour, albeit after the ball had apparently already gone over the touchline before Rocchi played his pass. The lineman missed it, though, so Goran Pandev’s finish stood. Before the half, though, the suddenly eager Greeks pulled level and, despite Lazio’s growing domination of the match, went ahead for good in the 64th minute through substitute — and former Lazio striker — Darko Kovačević. Lazio threatened in the dying stages of the match, but Olympiacos’ luck and their own ancient keeper, Euro 2004 hero Antonios Nikopolidis were up to the task, and the Roman side’s Champions League dream is all but over. There are about a million scenarios for Group C, but Lazio need three points in Madrid on Matchday 6 to
get into the UEFA Cup put themselves in position to do move on, whether it’s to the UEFA Cup or the knockout stages.
(Thanks to Jan for sorting me out on Lazio’s situation.)