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Dublin: 2°C Friday 7 May 2021

Zlatan on target as classy Milan see off committed Shamrock Rovers

The Italians were 2-0 winners in the Europa League tonight.

Ibrahimovic celebrates his goal.
Ibrahimovic celebrates his goal.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Shamrock Rovers 0

AC Milan 2

IN THE WEEK the country has been forced to reorder life and time according to different levels, Shamrock Rovers learned they exist in football too, and are much harder to negotiate. 

Rovers were loyal to their domestic possession game and battled ferociously hard against a Milan side that were still ultimately comfortable in a 2-0 Europa League qualifier win. The goals came in either half, from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the outstanding Hakan Calhanoglu.

That a club like Milan and a player like Ibrahimovic could be cloistered away at a pristine and eerily quiet stadium with a city watching from afar will forever remain strange, and steps were taken to ensure nobody could peer over the wall: a fence was erected against the wall facing the Tallaght bypass to keep supporters watching on TV. 

One enterprising Rovers fan, however, booked a room on the top floor of the Maldron hotel across the road to catch whatever fleeting glimpse he could.

Nonetheless, some traditions survive even a pandemic: that Danish captain Simon Kjaer gets his annual game in Dublin – albeit this time for Milan – and that Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains a dead-eyed killer in front of goal. 

Roberto Lopes thwacked a bad clearance to the feet of Theo Hernandez, and after a swift one-two with Calhanoglu, Ibrahimovic found himself one-on-one with Alan Mannus. 

The goal was inevitable. 

A second Milan goal looked just as likely moments later, but Aaron McEneff popped up to hack away a Castellejo effort off the line as Milan swept clear from a Rovers free-kick. 

Milan owned the ball for the opening stages but Rovers carved out the first chance. 

With feet too fast for the Franck Kessie, Byrne bisected the Milan defence with a gorgeous pass to find the arcing Aaron Greene, who forced a smart save from Donnarumma from a tight angle.

Rovers, with Byrne dropping deep to pull the strings, kept on passing, and a long period of possession saw Rovers slowly pull Milan out of shape only for Ronan Finn to plant a back-post header right at Donnarumma at the end of the first half. 

With Stephen Kenny and Keith Andrews watching on, Byrne was terrific, but struggled to get on the ball in attacking areas. This was most painfully true in the opening stages of the second half, as Milan hemmed Rovers into their own penalty area.

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The terrific Calhanoglu grazed the crossbar with an overhead kick, with Mannus doing well to beat away a follow-up drive from Calabria. Calhanoglu then forced a great save from Mannus with a vicious free-kick from an acute angle after Lopes fouled Ibrahimovic.

Lopes, O’Brien and Byrne were all forced into last-ditch blocks as Rovers struggled for air. They tried to play their way through the Milan press but couldn’t, and by the time Rovers finally got a gulp of breath, they were 2-0 down. 

When Neil Farrugia lost out in a challenge with Bennacer, Kessie exchanged passes with Zlatan, and when Saelemaekers couldn’t force his way through in the penalty area, he played the ball back to Calhanoglu who side-footed the ball beyond Mannus from the edge of the box. 

Rovers responded by introducing Dylan Watts to give them some energy, and soon he set up Greene to force another save from Donnarumma. 

Rovers remained committed, and Lopes made a stunning last-ditch tackle in the box to deny Castillejo as the game approached injury time. 

Ultimately, Milan left Dublin without stress, as the game bucked the year’s trend in playing out pretty much how everyone expected it to.

Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace; Ronan Finn; Aaron McEneff, Gary O’Neill (Dylan Watts, 70′); Neil Farrugia (Sean Kavanagh, 83′); Jack Byrne, Graham Burke; Aaron Greene (Dean Williams, 87′)

AC Milan: Gianluigi Donnarumma; Davide Calabria, Simon Kjaer, Matteo Gabbia, Théo Hernandez; Franck Kessie, Ismael Bennacer (Sandro Tonali, 83′); Samu Castillejo, Hakan Calhanoglu (Brahim Diaz, 83′), Alexis Saelemaekers (Rade Krunic, 74′); Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Referee: Adam Farkas 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from Tallaght Stadium

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