Giroud seals Milan’s passage past Napoli into Champions League semis
AC Milan reached the semi-finals of the Champions League on Tuesday after Olivier Giroud struck the crucial goal in a 1-1 draw at Napoli which completed a 2-1 aggregate victory over their fellow Italians.
Giroud tapped in what turned out to be the decisive goal two minutes before the break after a blistering run from Rafael Leao, who was once again key as Milan beat Napoli for the third time this month.
The France striker’s 13th goal of the season saved his blushes after he missed a penalty midway through the first half.
Stefano Pioli’s side now have the prospect of a local derby in the last four as Inter Milan hold a two-goal lead ahead of their second leg with Benfica on Wednesday night.
“I’m very proud of this team, with that spirit we can dream of anything,” said Giroud to Mediaset.
“In the next round there will be another hard match whether it’s against Inter or Benfica, but if we keep this spirit we can go anywhere.”
After the match Mediaset showed Leao a video of Ruud Gullit setting up a goal with an almost identical run at Napoli in 1988.
“It’s the same,” said a shocked Leao.
“It’s what I try to do, go at players, it’s how I can make difference. If I can’t score I look for my teammates. I saw Giroud there.”
Milan have not contested a Champions League semi-final since they were crowned kings of Europe for the seventh and most recent time in 2007.
Victor Osimhen scored in stoppage time but it was not enough for Napoli who are creaking as they come towards the end of what has been a phenomenal season.
Luciano Spalletti’s once freewheeling team are struggling for goals and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia also had a penalty saved with 10 minutes remaining, a miss which condemned his team to defeat.
Napoli are on the verge of their first league title since 1990, but after being placed on the easier side of the draw Tuesday’s exit was an underwhelming end to their European adventure.
Their hardcore fans had agreed a truce in an ideological battle with owner Aurelio De Laurentiis which had made the atmosphere at home matches poisonous, and on Tuesday a packed Stadio Maradona was initially in fine voice.
Their team went straight at Milan, dominating possession and pushing the opposition back towards the vibrating stands.
However, the best they could muster was two long-distance efforts from Matteo Politano which crept wide. On Milan’s first serious attack Mario Rui clattered into Leao and handed Giroud the chance to give the away side a huge advantage from the penalty spot.
However Giroud’s weak effort was easily stopped by Alex Meret, whose save unleashed a roar from the stands, a colossal racket repeated when he prevented Giroud netting a more than presentable chance shortly afterwards.
Napoli had scored at least three goals in all of their previous Champions League home games this season but looked short on ideas against a well-organised Milan defence which kept a tight lid on Osimhen.
And as the hosts pushed to level the scores on aggregate, Milan pounced at the end of the first half.
Leao scooped up the ball after Tanguy Ndombele’s sloppy control and charged from deep his own half, breezed past three Napoli players and rolled an unmissable chance across to Giroud, who fell to his knees in a mixture of joy and relief.
Napoli were again on the front foot after the break but struggled to create much, with Mathias Olivera’s header wide from a 64th-minute corner the best chance until Fikayo Tomori handled Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s low cross as he put in a challenge in the penalty area.
Kvaratskhelia fluffed his own spot-kick just like Giroud, meaning Osimhen’s bullet header in the 93rd minute meant nothing for Napoli who will wonder what might have been after wasting so many chances in the first leg.