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In which we head back to the San Siro for a recap of this week's Champions League match pitting Spurs angainst Milan
Tuesday, February 15, 2011 / Stadio Guiseppi Meazza (a.k.a., San Siro) / Milan, Italy
Spurs return to the San Siro tonight long on Yiddish chutzpah, but short one Welsh maestro in the form of Gareth Bale. On a stormy evening in Milan, tempest a-brew, Bale's teammates returns to Milan to face not the Internazionale side they blitzed for three second half goals last they played here, but rather Inter's fierce cross town rivals, AC Milan. Uncle Harry starts the Champions League knockout phase with an attacking lineup that includes Van der Vaart, Lennon, and Crouch, while Milan counter with Ibrahimovic and Robinho, and old war horse Gennaro Gattuso, among others.
Spurs show no fear of their opponent, attacking from the start, and Milan center back Alessandro Nesta is guilty of a handball inside the first minute. The referee, however, seems not to have arrived at the match yet as he fails to spot the infraction. Peter Crouch's height causes the Italians problems in the early going, as they appear uneasy dealing with an ultra-tall thin man with limited mobility in a direction other than vertical.
In a worrying early development, Milan are forced to substitute goalkeeper Christian Abbiati due to a concussion on 15 minutes, and there's not time like the present to learn the trade for backup Marco Amelia. Abbiati's been the busier of the two 'keepers to this point in the match, but it's not immediately clear where the blow to his head came from.
For much of the first half Milan appear to be playing the match underwater, not just in heavy rain, but actually underwater: freakishly slow movement being the most obvious component of their play. By the half hour mark, though, Spurs are no longer dominating and Milan have somewhat played their way back into the match, although it's probably more accurate to say that they've managed to drag Spurs down to their level rather than having picked up their own effort. Spurs have gone away from the wide crosses into Crouch that led to their early flurry of opportunities, and both sides seem in search of inspiration as well as goals. In truth it's a fairly drab opening 45 minutes, fit only to match the evening's weather, and it'll be up to the two coaches to channel their inner Vince Lombardi during the interval.
Alexandre Pato enters in the second half to partner Ibrahimovic up front (the Duck and the Nose, or shall we collectively call them The Beak?), in an effort to inject some pace into Milan's game. At the other end, it's largely still long passes and outside shooting, but Van der Vaart does manage to channel his inner Tiger Woods (2007 edition), offering an exquisite chip shot that is just inches wide of the ultimate target.
When Gattuso is denied by a leaping Huerelho Gomes, the first six minutes of the second half action have featured more real chances than occurred in the entire first half. The spirit of the game also hots up considerably: when Mathieu Flamini recklessly two foots a sideline challenge on Vedran Corluka -- who is ultimately stretched off -- the removal of the player from the pitch is not quick enough for Milan, whose players yell and gesticulate wildly at both the downed player and referee. Further complicating matters, Gattuso takes a sideline swipe at Spurs' assistant Joe Jordan, and how the overmatched referee has not produced a red card for either of these two incidents is beyond explanation.
When Gomes is forced to make another point blank save Spurs know for sure they're in a Milanese street fight. Gattuso continues to badger and battle Spurs' players -- especially Peter Crouch -- in virtual hand-to-hand combat, and is shown incredible deference by the referee, Stephane Lannoy, who now allows him a second unpunished push on the evening.
When Niko Krancjar enters the fray with the clock showing a little over ten minutes to play, Spurs are likely hoping he'll conjure up a third match-winning performance in a row. But the goal which gives them a victory comes not from Krancjar, but appropriately from the Big Man: Peter Crouch finishes off a wondrous blitzkrieg of a run from Aaron Lennon, who's left vapor trails in his wake as he jets across two-thirds of the pitch and hurdles over the Milan defense. It's a fitting winner, Spurs like a punch drunk boxer throwing a right roundhouse out of nowhere, to finish off a scrappy and classless Milan side.
In yet one more vivid demonstration of this complete lack of class, Gattuso can't leave the pitch at evening's end without picking another fight and headbutting Jordan, and now there's no way for UEFA to sweep his behavior under the rug. In an organization that prides itself on "respect,' Gattuso's lack of that quality -- as Captain of this out-of-control Milan side -- is appaling to witness. Spurs should be elated to score the vital road goal, and escape back to the Lane in solid control of the tie.
This is farlieonfootie for February 17.
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