AC Milan 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur: Crouch 79’
Milan lined up in their usual 4-1-3-2 formation with defender Thiago Silva moving to defensive midfield to counter the threat of Rafael van der Vaart. With Cassano cup-tied and Pirlo out injured, Seedorf comes into the team to act as a link-man between midfield and the attack of Ibrahimovic and Robinho.
Tottenham are down to the bare bones with injuries hitting their usually formidable squad. Main men Luka Modric and Gareth Bale were out of the starting line-up which meant rookie Sandro and new-signing Steven Pienaar came into the midfield for Harry Redknapp’s side. The North London men did have Rafael van der Vaart available though and he will play behind Peter Crouch in attack.
Aaron Lennon will be a key-man for Spurs and his pace could be a real problem for the Milan fullbacks who receive little defensive support from their midfield. Steven Pienaar’s ability to keep possession will be crucial in the absence of Modric in a game where Tottenham will surely be up against it.
Peter Crouch scored the winner as Tottenham produced a defensive masterclass to frustrate Milan and seal a famous result at the San Siro that gives them the upper hand in their last 16 clash.
The only goal of the game came on 79 minutes when Crouch finished off a brilliant counter attack from Aaron Lennon.
Milan twice came close through Yepes but his headers were brilliantly saved by an in-form Huerelho Gomes.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a goal disallowed for Milan in injury time as Spurs held on for a memorable win.
The match will be remembered for a touchline incident involving Joe Jordan and Genaro Gattuso in which the Italian midfielder appeared to headbutt the Spurs assistant.
Spurs were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty as early as 30 seconds in when Steven Pienaar’s cross appeared to be handled by Alessandro Nesta. Redknapp’s side looked to be targeting Milan’s fullbacks, which many see as the Italian’s weak point.
Corluka and Lennon were getting the better of Antonini time and time again with the Tottenham duo looking for the towering Peter Crouch at every opportunity as Allegri’s side afforded Spurs far too much time on the ball.
The Premier League team’s usual attacking style looked to have been sacrificed for a more disciplined approach with both Sandro and Palacios holding with van der Vaart dropping far deeper than in his previous appearances.
Tottenham were still looking the far more likely to score however as Lennon broke down the right on more than one occasion with Abbiati foiling Crouch’s attempted header.
Peter Crouch was becoming an influential figure as balls rained into the Milan penalty area as the Italian defence struggled to cope with the sheer size of the England striker, with Spurs playing to the 6’ 7” forwards strengths.
Crouch said in pre-game interviews that he still hurts after being left out by Liverpool for their 2007 Champions League Final against Milan, as he believed he could have made the difference and won the trophy for the Reds. On tonight’s evidence his claims appear to be justified.
Milan failed to test Tottenham in the opening 25 minutes as they failed to find any sort of rhythm and their slow passing game made it very easy for the English team to get bodies behind the ball.
Ibrahimovic and Robinho were virtually anonymous up front as Spurs dominated possession with the Swede’s only real involvement early on a lame penalty appeal that was waved away by the officials.
The Italians looked terrified every time Pienaar or Lennon ran at their fullbacks and Harry Redknapp will have been cursing his widemen’s decision making as they failed to take advantage of several great opportunities on the flanks.
Their frustrations seemed to be boiling over just after the half hour mark when Peter Crouch was viciously fouled by Nesta and Silva in quick succession. It was Milan keeper Christian Abbiati who saw his game ended early though after he went down under a challenge from Crouch. Marco Amelia replaced him.
The best effort of the first half came five minutes before the break as van der Vaart unleashed a powerful 25-yard drive that was expertly saved by Amelia.
Milan briefly threatened in added time but Robinho’s powerful cross flew straight across the face of goal just before the whistle was blown for half-time, with it goalless at the break.
Tottenham will be delighted at that score after conceding four times in the first half during their match with Inter Milan at the San Siro earlier in the campaign.
It was obvious that Milan needed more firepower if they were to score in the second half and Allegri wasted no time in making changes as he brought on Pato for Clarence Seedorf.
But it was Spurs and van der Vaart who continued to threaten after the break and the Dutchman came close with an audacious chip that sailed inches wide.
The game was opening up and Milan started to bombard the Tottenham goal with Huerelho Gomes getting fingertips to a Yepes header that seemed destined for the top corner.
Milan’s next chance was a carbon copy of their last as Yepes got on the end of another set piece only to be denied by another tremendous Gomes save.
There were signs in the first half that things could get a bit feisty and things threatened to get out of hand in the second when a poor challenge from former-Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini left Vedran Corluka unable to continue. Corluka’s replacement was Jonathan Woodgate who came on to make his first appearance in 15 months after a series of groin problems.
Even assistant Joe Jordan was getting in on the action as he clashed with the ever-aggressive Gattuso, who had to be pulled away from the scuffle by van der Vaart. Acting as peacemaker was the Dutchman’s final act as he made way for Luka Modric who many thought would miss out through injury.
The Italian enforcer was at it again minutes later as he clashed with Peter Crouch as was on the verge of a red card. Surprisingly UEFA’s stats showed that Gattuso had not committed a foul all night, quite an achievement for a man who always seems to walk the disciplinary tightrope.
That record ended minutes later though as he picked up the booking that rules him out of the second leg at White Hart Lane.
Milan appeared to be coming into the game more and more with Spurs camped inside their own half, this allowed Redknapp’s side to play their natural counter attacking game that worked so well against Inter a few months early and in the 78th minute their new approach paid off.
Lennon’s pace had been troubling the Italians all night and for the first time he had space to run into as his blistering run ended with him beating Yepes with ease before squaring for Peter Crouch to easily stroke in a precious away goal for Spurs.
The Italians tried to get back into the game but their attempts appeared to be in vain as they came up against an organised Tottenham defence.
Just as it looked like Spurs had ridden the storm, Ibrahimovic turned and smashed in a brilliant scissor kick only for the referee to blow him up for a push on Michael Dawsonn, ending Milan’s hopes of an equaliser and securing a famous win for the North London side.