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Dublin: 2°C Friday 7 May 2021

Gary O'Neill hails Milan's quality and reveals Ibrahimovic's 'lovely touch'

The Milan striker gave his shirt to Aaron Greene’s son after his side’s 2-0 win at Tallaght.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

FILE IT UNDER things we learned from Tallaght: there are incentives to marking Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 

“Aaron Greene was marking him on corners” said Gary O’Neill after the game. “He said, ‘Listen, my young lad is doing ballboy behind the goal, it would mean a lot to him if he could get your jersey.’”

Ibrahimovic obliged post-game. 

“It was a lovely touch”, said O’Neill. “When the set pieces were going up on the wall, who was marking Zlatan was the raffle! Greener was the lucky one.” 

Ibrahimovic opened the scoring in Milan’s 2-0 win, and it fell to Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace and Joey O’Brien to handle Ibrahimovic in open play. 

“The back three were saying his strength, his size, his movement, his hold up play, it’s two or three steps above what we’re used to. Apparently he’s a really nice fella too. 

“Look, he’s been at the top of the game since he was 18, he’s 38 and still at that level. He wasn’t alone: I thought the 10 (Hakan Calhanoglu) was unbelievable and the 4 (Ismael Bennacer) was different class. They are elite athletes and it’s great to pit our wits against them.” 

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jack-greene-with-zlatan-ibrahimovics-jersey Jack Greene with Ibrahimovic's jersey. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Calhanoglu scored Milan’s second goal, side-footing home from the edge of the penalty area. 

“Both of their goals came in the 22nd minute of both halves, right halfway through”, reflected O’Neill. “The second one killed us. If we could have stayed in it at 1-0 into the last 15 minutes and had a right go you never know what could have happened, but two bits of class from them won the game. They were brilliant.” 

Like his manager Stephen Bradley, O’Neill was keen to stress the positives after the game, but admitted the result tinges the night with a small bit of regret. 

“Nobody fancied us to win, you saw the odds (Rovers were 22/1 to win), but we’d like to consider ourselves as being at the top of the Irish game at the moment and this is the first game we’ve lost since Dundalk won the league at Oriel last year. We’re not used to losing and there will always be regrets, but giving a good account of ourselves was one of the main things and I think we did that.” 

As Milan advance to the third qualifying round of the Europa League, Rovers train their sights on domestic success, and head for a league clash with Waterford on Monday eight points clear at the top of the Premier Division table. 

“We’re back in training tomorrow and it’s back to business. We are eight points clear with seven games left we want to drive that home. We’re unbeaten and we want to keep that going, too, and we have the Cup quarter-final to look forward to at end of season, but now all our focus is on Waterford next Monday.”

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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