Cristiano Ronaldo missed a first-half penalty, just seconds before Milan forward Ante Rebic was sent off for a reckless high challenge in a frenetic few minutes during their Coppa Italia semi-final clash. Despite failing to capitalise on their advantage, Juventus won via away goal rule.
Although the Serie A returns next weekend, league leaders Juventus hosted Milan in the second leg of their hotly-contested Coppa Italia semi-final – with a place in next week’s showpiece event up for grabs.
Juve begin as they mean to go on
Maurizio Sarri’s side were immediately in the ascendancy from referee Daniele Orsato’s first whistle, as Paulo Dybala and Alex Sandro went to work on breaking down a determined Milan backline.
Douglas Costa dragged his effort narrowly wide, an early warning sign Juve were keen to continue where they left off three months ago with a 2-0 win over title rivals Inter.
Matthjis de Ligt came close with a close-range header, but flashed it over the crossbar.
Penalty controversy, before Milan’s Rebic sent off
Even with Juve’s early dominance, no-one would have expected the following sequence to take place:
After a lengthy VAR review and Orsato himself going to the pitchside monitor, Andrea Conti was harshly penalised for a handball.
As multiple replays showed, he instinctively turned his elbow and the ball brushed him in mid-air as Ronaldo shaped to shoot in a tight space.
It was definitely a contentious decision, similar to the one which saw Davide Calabria penalised in their first leg clash.
However, history didn’t repeat itself on this occasion – goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma getting fingertips to Ronaldo’s effort as it cannoned back off the far post.
Seconds later, Milan were again reeling but this time could have no complaints.
After initial deliberation from the referee, Rebic was sent off for a high studs-up challenge on Danilo.
Down to ten men and missing their focal point in attack with 70 minutes still to play, this evening just got even more difficult for Milan to navigate.
Conti was then booked minutes later for a forceful challenge on Rodrigo Bentancur, as the hosts’ bench made clear their anger at what had quickly descending into a feisty affair.
Soon enough, Milan began to settle – but not withour frequent warning signs from their hosts which forced Donnarumma into important saves.
On the half-hour mark, Danilo effortlessly outmuscled Hakan Calhanoglu before floating an inviting ball into the area.
Ronaldo, who wasn’t at his best throughout, missed it but an outstretched Blaise Matuidi forced a point-blank stop from Donnarumma.
Milan were visibly struggling as a result of their numerical disadvantage, against a Juventus side content suffocating them into mistakes while not allowing them time or space in possession.
After combination play with Dybala on the edge of the box, Ronaldo had another effort – one Donnarumma comfortably smothered. Despite the hosts’ chance creation, scores remained level at half-time.
Cristiano’s stoppage-time penalty in the first leg meant Milan would crash out if this was the final result.
So, you could assume them adopting a more adventurous approach after half-time to snatch a goal of their own.
Milan fashion chances of their own, Juve still probe
They were inches away from securing the breakthrough, after Lucas Paqueta beat Sandro in the air and Giacomo Bonaventura sped past Leonardo Bonucci down the flank.
He dinked the ball into the area for an onrushing Calhanoglu, who could only glance his header wide.
His subsequent grimace spoke volumes: he knew just how important that miss could prove, as Juventus continued in pursuit of a winner.
Alessio Romagnoli was called into action, making an excellently timed last-ditch sliding tackle to dispossess Ronaldo.
The 35-year-old edged dangerously close to goal, having drawn Romagnoli’s centre-back partner Simon Kjaer out of position as he failed to intercept a one-two in transition.
Changes galore sees affair fizzle out
Sarri made a triple change after the hour mark, as Sami Khedira, Adrien Rabiot and Federico Bernardeschi were introduced.
The game rather petered out in terms of clear-cut chances created afterwards, as both made alterations which disrupted the game’s flow.
To their credit, Milan never stopped trying – midfield duo Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer retained possession well, taking calculated risks, but had no outlet to aim for in the box.
Kjaer, like Calhanoglu, could and should have done better with a promising headed opportunity.
Meanwhile Donnarumma was made to work hard for his clean sheet, saving from Dybala and Sandro late on too after great build-up play from Bernardeschi.
Milan will feel hard done by, especially after the events late on from their first-leg draw, but did well not to lose with ten-men, especially after Juventus’ early waves of pressure.
Juventus will play either Napoli or Inter (Napoli lead 1-0 on agg.) in next Wednesday’s Coppa Italia Final, with the second semi-final clash scheduled for 8pm tomorrow evening.