12/28/2016 8:03:39 AM

Super Milan

Super Milan

WHEN highly-rated keeper Gianluigi Buffon won his first Italian Super Cup with Parma in 1999, Gianluigi Donnarumma would have been developing his motor skills as a six-month-old. And the 17-year-old upstaging his idol in Doha in the same event with a decisive save in the shoot-out to hand AC Milan a deserving 5-4 win over Juventus was the sort of dramatic climax Italian football needed as it looks to regain its esteem.

After Donnarumma denied wily Argentinian Paulo Dybala’s effort with a fine save, Mario Pasilic blasted home the final kick to seal it 4-3 for Milan. Forward Mario Mandzukic too had missed his attempt for Juventus while Gianluca Lapadula was the only Milan player to fail from the spot.

Earlier, Juventus were off to an electric start and took a deserved 1-0 lead in the 18th minute through defender Giorgio Chiellini, who prodded home a Miralem Pjanic flag-kick. Milan struggled to keep pace with the rivals, but drew level just before half-time through Giacomo Bonaventura, who glanced home a perfect cross from Spanish right-winger Suso. They were the better side from then on and Juve could only blame themselves for not killing the game in the first half hour.

The Rossoneri’s victory was not due to any stroke of luck, but achieved through relentless fight and marked by a fearless, flamboyant style. 

The triumph, which came after five barren years, was charming. The frustration they had endured since Zlatan Ibrahimovic won them the same trophy in Beijing in 2011 was in stark contrast to their once invincible status. And the Swedish striker was one of the first to laud their success, sending a message Grandeeee. Complimenti. Forza Milan! (Great. Well done. Strong Milan!) to CEO Adriano Galliani. They are one of the sentimental favourites in world football.

The new Milan are a bunch of youngsters. The average age of their squad last week was 24 and even coach Vincenzo Montella could well be lost among them if he swaps his suit for a team shirt and shorts. But they have the attitude, and talents like Suso, Bonaventura, Donnarumma and wonder kid Manuel Locatelli, whom fans did not want to part with after he jumped into their midst after the coronation.

Milan had landed in Doha 24 hours late, after their flight met with some technical problems. But that proved immaterial as they showed grit and composure to upstage their mighty rivals, having done it at San Siro in Serie A last October. With a Chinese consortium set to take over Milan in March, they can dream of setting lofty goals and the Doha win should be the watershed moment, as stand-in captain Ignazio Abate put it.

Juventus failed in Doha once again, having lost to Napoli, also on penalties two years ago. With Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain leading the attack, and the likes of Pjanic and Sami Khedira operating behind, Massimiliano Allegri’s 4-1-3-2 formation seemed too good for Milan. But as the game progressed, they looked to be losing the battle in the middle as Milan kept attacking along the right side, using Suso, and kept the edge.

Allegri, who struggled to contain his anger after the final whistle, still described the passing year as a great one for the Old Lady. They are favourites to lift a sixth straight league title even though only four points separate them with second-placed AS Roma. 

A Doha triumph would have been the perfect Christmas gift he would have craved for, but he ended up criticising his players for their lack of focus. The defeat should haunt him for some time at least as it came against Milan, whom he failed to lift during his four-year spell.

For football, it was yet another David felling Goliath story. 

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