x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

AC Milan and Celtic qualify for group stage of Uefa Champions League

Serie A team rebound from defeat to Hellas Verona to beat PSV Eindhoven and Scottish champions thrash Kazakh side to progress.

Kevin-Prince Boateng scored twice to power AC Milan to the Champions League group stage.
Kevin-Prince Boateng scored twice to power AC Milan to the Champions League group stage.

MILAN // A brace from Kevin-Prince Boateng and a goal from Mario Balotelli handed AC Milan a 3-0 win over PSV Eindhoven to seal the Italians' entry to the Champions League group stages on Wednesday.

PSV had dominated proceedings when the sides drew 1-1 in the Netherlands last week and came to the San Siro hoping to qualify for the second stage of the competition for the first time since the 2008/09 campaign.

But despite a commendable performance from Phillip Cocu's side, the visitors ultimately failed to convert several chances as Milan booked their ticket for the group stage for the 17th time.

Massimilano Allegri, the Milan manager, who was lucky to hang on to his job at the end of last season as the Rossoneri finished third following a poor first half of the campaign, said his joy was tempered by renewed criticism.

"I'm happy with the performance but I'm very angry," Allegri told Sports Mediaset, a channel owned by club owner Silvio Berlusconi.

"From the outside I can feel the detractors but inside there is a good rapport with the general manager, the players and the club.

"The lads produced a superb performance... but I don't want to say anything else about the game. It's the result that counts."

PSV were given hope early on when a header from Tim Matavz, their Slovenian striker, forced Chistian Abbiaiti, the Milan goalkeeper, into a diving parry in the eight minute.

But a minute later the hosts took the lead.

Riccardo Montolivo's pass found Boateng on the edge of the area and the German-born Ghanaian controlled quickly before sending a right-foot shot inside the post past PSV 'keeper Jeroen Zoet.

Following a 2-1 defeat to Hellas Verona, the Serie A new boys, at the weekend in their season opener, Milan had more than the Champions League on their minds and, almost to a man, showed plenty of commitment on the night.

A curling effort from Stephan El-Shaarawy following a great build-up sailed over Zoet's crossbar moments later.

But Abbiati had to look smart when the ball fell kindly for Adam Maher and he smashed a long-range volley which the Italian 'keeper parried to safety.

Milan were pressing PSV at every opportunity and Montolivo came close to doubling their lead on the half hour only for his effort from the right to skew wide.

Less than two minutes later El Shaarawy had his head in his hands after seeing his snap shot from Mattia De Sciglio's cutback come off the post and bounce on the goalline before Zoet collected.

Milan endured a nervous start to the second half but fears were allayed when Balotelli toe-poked Philippe Mexes's header past Zoet following a corner from El Shaarawy.

"In the Netherlands we played good and were unlucky to draw but tonight we killed them off," Balotelli told Sport Mediaset

The goal took the wind out of PSV and despite Cocu making a series of late substitutions in a bid to reduce the arrears, the Dutchmen suffered a hammer blow when Milan scored their third on 77 minutes.

Balotelli started the move but it was Andrea Poli who supplied for Boateng from the left-hand edge of the area, the forward taking two touches before dragging his shot across Zoet and into the far corner.

Celtic beat Shakhter 3-0

GLASGOW // Celtic manager Neil Lennon said overcoming Shakhter Karagandy to book a place in the Champions League was the greatest achievement of his trophy-laden career in football.

Celtic needed goals from Kris Commons, Georgios Samaras and a dramatic stoppage time strike from James Forrest to clinch a 3-0 victory at Celtic Park in the second leg of their play-off match that sent them through on aggregate following a 2-0 defeat in Kazakhstan.

Last season Lennon, who won a host of trophies as a player and now manager at Celtic, led his side to the last 16 of Europe's elite competition following famous wins over Spartak Moscow and Barcelona.

However, after losing Victor Wanyama, their influential midfielder, last season's top-scorer Gary Hooper and key defender Kelvin Wilson in the transfer window the Celtic manager says the win over the Kazakhstan minnows tops the lot.

"It's the greatest thing I've ever done in football. The last three months have all been about preparation for this," he said.

"I'm relieved and there is a good sense of pride in what we have achieved tonight considering we lost Hooper, Wanyama and Wilson who were the spine of the team really for the last year-and-a-half.

"We lost three very important players and it's been difficult to replace them. Coming back from a two-goal deficit down tonight as well just makes the players' performance and efforts even more remarkable.

"I cannot speak highly enough about the players in that dressing room tonight; they were just wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I'm not really sure they get the credit they deserve at times.

"The night required patience but there was a real willingness amongst the players to do that.

"When you have Samaras, Forrest and Stokes in the mood anything can happen and we got what we deserved. We dominated the first half and dominated the second and, contrary to some reports, we actually dominated large parts of the first tie as well.

"We didn't get what we deserved then but we certainly did tonight."


twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE