AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli has insisted that he never doubted his team despite the fact they were so close to being eliminated on multiple occasions.
Milan couldn’t have made life any more difficult for themselves, but they found a way to make it past Rio Ave and into the Europa League group stages.
Alexis Saelemaekers opened the scoring for the Rossoneri in the second half, but goals from Geraldes in normal time and Gelson Dala early in extra time had Milan trailing until the 120th minute.
Drama that struck as a penalty was awarded for handball which Hakan Calhanoglu despatched, and then an absolutely incredible penalty shootout occurred in which Rio Ave spurned three winning kicks as Milan fought back to win 9-8.
Pioli was interviewed by Milan TV after the game, which will surely now be dubbed ‘That Night in Portugal’.
“The penalties are a lottery but the boys deserved it for the effort, for all the work that has been done, it is obvious that I am satisfied,” he said (via MilanNews).
“I was always sure that the boys could overturn the deficit. Then in the penalties they had the opportunity to close it three times, the hope was there.
“It would have been a shame, it was the first seasonal target of a path started last year. The guys know better than me that there are situations in which you have to be more effective. You start to feel fatigue, this is a great result.”
On fatigue, he added: “Positive results help to recover sooner. The group will never be a problem again, this is a group that works well, is doing well.
“We do not think we are the best in the world or in Italy, we aim to be competitive at the highest level. levels, we can improve.”
On Colombo: “I gave Lorenzo a pat on the back, I told him it was his merit we got the penalty in the 120th minute, he hit the right ball. For him it was an important exercise.”