AC Milan didn’t have it all their own way, but they got the job done against Shamrock Rovers to reach the third qualifying round with a 2-0 win.
It was a nervous and cagey encounter overall in which Milan dominated the possession but were not quite as sharp and incisive as they might have been had this not been their first competitive game of the season.
Ultimately it would be Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hakan Calhanoglu who were decisive, with both scoring either side of the break. The former netted first thanks to an assist from the latter, while the Turkey international essentially killed the game just over 20 minutes from time.
The win sets up a tie at San Siro against Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt as they overcame Zalgiris Vilnius, and the winner of that will face a Play-Off game before reaching the group stages.
Pioli was not able to call upon the injured trio of Alessio Romagnoli, Andrea Conti and Mateo Musacchio, while Rafael Leao is still in isolation after contracting Coronavirus and Ante Rebic is banned.
Despite that, he was still able to name a pretty strong XI for the game in Dublin, with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Hakan Calhanoglu, Ismael Bennacer, Franck Kessie, Theo Hernandez and Gianluigi Donnarumma all starting.
As expected, Milan began the game by dominating the early possession and trying to put balls into dangerous, but Shamrock’s five-man back line made it difficult for Ibrahimovic and co. to find much space.
The first half chance came bang on 10 minutes as a free-kick from Calhanoglu was whipped to the far post and was just fractionally too high for Ibrahimovic as the Swede headed over.
Donnarumma was the first of the two goalkeepers called into action however three minutes later, saving well after Greene had fired away a low shot from a narrow angle.
However, it would be Milan who took the lead after battling away. A lovely interchange between Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu and Ibrahimovic saw the Turkey international feed the Swede with a neat through ball, and he made no mistake firing a low show past Mannus at the near post.
GOOOOAAAAALLLLL! IBRA! pic.twitter.com/qwUGV7i2FZ
— MilanGifs (@MilanGifs) September 17, 2020
Moments later it was almost 2-0 as a Shamrock corner that was cleared turned into a brisk counter-attack, which ended with Castillejo seeing an effort cleared almost off the line following a square ball from Ibrahimovic.
The home side continued to cause problems through Greene, and the forward forced Donnarumma into a near post save having run through on goal down the left side of Milan’s defence.
Ibrahimovic and Calhanoglu continued to be the duo running the show, and the former Leverkusen man will have felt he could have done better from the 38-year-old’s knock down as he fired over unmarked from 20 yards out.
Milan’s wastefulness continued as Ibrahimovic fired over from inside the area three minutes before the break. A through ball from Calhanoglu had found Theo Hernandez, whose cut back found the No.11 after a blocked shot from Calabria, but he fired well over first time.
Up the other end Donnarumma was called into action again as a cross to the far stick was met by the head of Ronan Finn, though the 6ft5 Italy international saved easily with both hands.
Milan began the second half on top and came close on two occasions seven minutes in. Calhanoglu grazed the crossbar with a lobbed overhead kick that had the goalkeeper stranded, and the ball eventually fell to Calabria whose first time shot was destined for the top corner, but stung the palms of Mannus who parried for a corner.
It continued to be Pioli’s side who caused all the problems, and Mannus was again called to make a superb reaction save from a narrow-angled Calhanoglu free-kick following a foul on Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Milan continued to have chances to get a second goal which would have made the evening more comfortable. In the 64th minute Saelemaekers should have done better with his spin-and-shot move on the penalty spot from Castillejo’s feed, but the Belgian could get no power behind his effort.
The Rossoneri finally doubled their advantage a couple of minutes later, and it was an exquisite finish from Calhanoglu. Again Saelemaekers found time in the box with his back to goal, and he found the No.10 who made no mistake with a side foot finish that nestled perfectly inside the near post.
GOOOOOAAAAALLLLLL! HAKAN! pic.twitter.com/ksyYVpAjSn
— MilanGifs (@MilanGifs) September 17, 2020
There was a moment to remember for Sandro Tonali and Brahim Diaz eight minutes from time as both came off the bench to make their competitive debut for Milan, in place of Calhanoglu and Bennacer.
However, they would not see a great deal of action as the remainder of the game passed without incident in what was a good runout for Pioli’s side in a well-contested game.