Milan 2-0 Lecce: Leao double keeps Rossoneri's top-four hopes alive

By Sports Desk April 23, 2023

Rafael Leao scored a deadly double as Milan returned to winning ways in Serie A and boosted their Champions League qualification hopes with a 2-0 victory over Lecce.

Stefano Pioli's side reached the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday after a 2-1 aggregate win over Napoli, but their recent domestic league form had left much to be desired.

The Rossoneri had managed just one win in their last six league games, but Leao scored in each half on Sunday at San Siro to halt that slide against their relegation-threatened visitors.

Victory moved Milan level on points with fourth-placed Roma, who visit Atalanta on Monday, and three behind Juventus after the Bianconeri's 15-point deduction was reversed.

Wladimiro Falcone pushed away an early 25-yard drive from Sandro Tonali before Theo Hernandez thought he had won a penalty for Milan.

Daniele Chiffi pointed to the spot after a Federico Baschirotto tackle on Hernandez, only for the referee to reverse his decision after consulting the VAR and touchline monitor.

Lecce's Lameck Banda squandered a glorious 19th-minute opportunity when heading onto the left post from close range, and Milan punished that miss five minutes before the break.

An inventive short-corner routine allowed Tonali to cross towards the back post, where Leao towered above Valentin Gendrey to head into the left corner.

Leao wastefully chipped over after 73 minutes, but he made amends a minute later with a fine individual run and a low left-footed drive that went in off the right post.

 

What does it mean? Milan avoid Champions League hangover

Milan battled to a 1-1 draw at Napoli to secure their first last-four appearance in the Champions League since 2007, and they avoided any previously common signs of a dip in form following that achievement.

The Rossoneri had drawn their last two league matches after a Champions League game, along with three stalemates in their past five Serie A outings, but Pioli's side were good value for victory over Lecce.

There remains the possibility Milan will not be playing in UEFA's top club competition next season, though, needing to overthrow Roma or Juve, or both, or win this year's Champions League outright.

Leao matches Ronaldo record

Leao was a central figure to Milan's Scudetto success last season, attracting interest from the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.

The Milan winger became just the second Portuguese player to hit the 10-goal mark in two consecutive Serie A campaigns, after Cristiano Ronaldo did so for Juve three seasons in a row between 2018-19 and 2020-21.

Defensive fragility costs Lecce again

Lecce are just two points clear of 18th-placed Cremonese and a place in the Serie A relegation zone, with their defensive issues a driving factor for their struggles.

They may be the only Italian top-flight side to have not conceded more than twice in a game this term, but Lecce's three clean sheets mark the worst record in the league.

What's next?

Milan face Roma on Saturday in a crucial clash in the top-four race, while Lecce host Udinese the day before.

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  • Switzerland 1-1 Germany: Late Fullkrug leveller secures Group A top spot for hosts Switzerland 1-1 Germany: Late Fullkrug leveller secures Group A top spot for hosts

    Niclas Fullkrug proved the last-gasp hero as Germany avoided a shock upset to top Group A at Euro 2024 after snatching a 1-1 draw with Switzerland on Sunday.

    Dan Ndoye's first international goal seemed set to seal a famous win for Switzerland and ensure them top spot in Group A, but Germany's towering substitute stepped up in the dying seconds in Frankfurt.

    Ruben Vargas thought he had doubled Switzerland's advantage late on, only to be denied by the offside flag, and that decision proved pivotal when Fullkrug headed in his 92nd-minute leveller.

    That late intervention ensured Germany finished top of the group and will face second place in Group D in the last 16, while Switzerland's top-two finish sets up a meeting with the runners-up of Group B.

    The host nation started brightly once again and thought they had taken another early lead when Florian Wirtz teed up Robert Andrich, who squeezed his shot past Yann Sommer into the near post.

    However, the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder was denied his first international goal after a VAR check as Jamal Musiala was deemed to have fouled Michel Aebischer in the box during the build-up.

    Nagelsmann's team instead found themselves behind for the first time in the tournament just before the half-hour mark after Ndoye crashed Remo Freuler's whipped cross past the helpless Manuel Neuer.

    Just moments later, Ndoye offered Germany another scare, racing past Antonio Rudiger before fizzing an angled shot just wide of the far post. 

    Nagelsmann's half-time message was clear as Musiala looked to make it three goals in three games with a powerful hit from the edge of the box, but Sommer was equal to the attempt.

    Toni Kroos drilled a low shot wide under pressure before Kai Havertz glanced a header over the bar as Germany failed to find their clinical edge.

    Joshua Kimmich had the best chance to equalise from close range in the 71st minute, but an incredible last-ditch block by Manuel Akanji denied him.

    Vargas was left one-on-one with Neuer shortly after and slotted into the far corner, but the assistant referee was quick to flag for offside as Switzerland celebrations were short-lived.

    Havertz's looping header bounced off the crossbar as Germany sought a response, which arrived when Fullkrug made his impact off the bench, thumping a header home from David Raum's left-sided delivery.

    Neuer's record-breaking day salvaged by Fullkrug

    Neuer had already made history in their opening game at Euro 2024 as he became Germany's outright top appearance maker at major tournaments, surpassing Philipp Lahm.

    Now, on his 37th start for his country, only Cristiano Ronaldo (45) has played more games across the Euros and World Cup than him, while he has also made the most appearances among goalkeepers in the history of the competition (18, moving ahead of Gianluigi Buffon).

    The 38-year-old could not mark a special day with a win, though, as Germany's long wait for a comeback victory when trailing at half-time stretched to 11 matches in the competition (D2 L9).

    Their last such win came at Euro 1976 against Yugoslavia (2-0 down at half-time, won 4-2), but Neuer and Co. can at least celebrate top spot after late drama in Frankfurt.

    Ndoye steps into the spotlight

    Xherdan Shaqiri grabbed the headlines in Switzerland's 1-1 draw with Scotland last time out after scoring in a sixth consecutive major tournament, but with him on the bench on Sunday, the Red Crosses needed others to step up.

    In his 14th start for the national side, Ndoye netted for the first time, becoming Switzerland's second-youngest goalscorer in the history of the Euros at 23 years and 242 days, after Johan Vonlanthen against France in 2004 (18y 141d).

    Despite going off in the 65th minute, Ndoye had the most shots for Switzerland (two of their three), creating an expected goals tally of 0.52 as he proved their biggest threat.

    Though Switzerland will rue their late concession, they are now unbeaten in their last four meetings with Germany – a promising sign as the last-16 awaits.

  • France v Poland: Deschamps remains calm despite Les Bleus' struggle for goals France v Poland: Deschamps remains calm despite Les Bleus' struggle for goals

    France manager Didier Deschamps says he is "not concerned" with his side's recent struggles in front of goal ahead of their final Euro 2024 group game against Poland on Tuesday.

    Les Bleus are all but through to the knockout stages of the European Championships, sitting joint-top of Group D with four points, but need to avoid defeat to ensure progression.

    Yet France's only goal at the tournament so far has come courtesy of Maximilian Wober turning into his own net in the opening 1-0 victory over Austria, before a goalless draw with the Netherlands on Friday.

    France failed to score with any of their 15 shots in a wasteful display against the Oranje as Deschamps went without Kylian Mbappe, who was only fit enough for the bench due to his broken nose.

    Asked about Les Bleus' profligate showings, Deschamps responded: "I am not concerned. It is just the name of the game.

    "Sometimes you have countless chances and don't hit the back of the net, and sometimes it is the other way round.

    "I would be worried if there were not any chances. Efficiency at high-level football is important, and it is something we can work on.

    On Mbappe's fitness, Deschamps added: "Everything is going in the right direction; he is recovering from the shock, there is the haematoma part which will diminish each day, he will get used to his mask, which modifies the vision a little. But he is fine."

    Poland became the first side to be eliminated from the tournament following France's draw, after they lost their opening matches to the Netherlands (2-1) and Austria (3-1).

    They have faced their own problems without Robert Lewandowski, who missed the start of the tournament due to a hamstring injury before appearing from the bench against Austria.

    "We are depressed by this result, but we still have one more game in our group, and we need to put our best foot forward and try to win three points," Lewandowski said.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    France – N'Golo Kante

    N'Golo Kante was a surprise inclusion in Deschamps' squad for the tournament after a two-year absence from the national side, but his performances so far have earned him the Player of the Match award in their opening two games.

    The midfielder has made more major tournament appearances without losing than any other European player, with France unbeaten in all 17 games he has played across the Euros and World Cup (W12 D5).

    Poland – Piotr Zielinski

    Poland may be out of the tournament but will be desperate to go down fighting, with Piotr Zielinski again expected to be key here.

    Zielinski has been directly involved in more shots than any other Poland player at Euro 2024 (11 – seven shots, four chances created), as well as completing the most passes for his side (68) across the first two rounds.

    MATCH PREDICTION: FRANCE WIN

    This will only be the third meeting between France and Poland in a major tournament, and the first at the Euros. Poland won a third-place play-off match 3-2 at the 1982 World Cup, while France triumphed 3-1 in the round of 16 at the 2022 World Cup.

    Including all competitions, France are unbeaten in their last eight meetings with Poland (W4 D4), since losing a friendly match 4-0 in August 1982.

    Les Bleus simply need to avoid defeat to qualify for the knockout stages, and they are unbeaten in their eight games in the group stage at the Euros under Deschamps (W4 D4), with their last such defeat coming on MD 3 versus Sweden at Euro 2012 (2-0), under Laurent Blanc.

    Meanwhile, Poland have lost both of their games at Euro 2024 so far but have never previously suffered three defeats in a single group stage at a major tournament.

    Poland have lost their final group stage match in three of their four previous appearances at the European Championships, with the exception being a 1-0 win against Ukraine in 2016 – the only time they have reached the knockout rounds of the competition.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    France – 73.9%

    Draw – 14.8%

    Poland – 11.2%

  • Sabitzer focused on last-16 qualification after Champions League heartache Sabitzer focused on last-16 qualification after Champions League heartache

    Marcel Sabitzer insisted he will put his Champions League final defeat in the past as he prepares to help Austria reach the last-16 of Euro 2024. 

    The Borussia Dortmund midfielder played the full duration of their 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid at Wembley earlier this month. 

    Los Blancos secured their 15th success in the competition thanks to goals late in the game from Dani Carvajal and Vinicius Junior. 

    But Sabitzer played a starring role as Austria roared back from their defeat to France in their opening game of the competition, beating Poland 3-1 to bring it down to the final matchday. 

    Austria face the Netherlands in Berlin next Tuesday to conclude their Group D campaign, and know a win could see them finish top or second. 

    A draw or defeat could also leave Ralf Rangnick's side with a good chance of progressing as one of the four best third-placed teams. 

    "The possibilities then really open up," Sabitzer said.

    "I know that from the Champions League, especially this season. Once you're on a run in the knockout phase anything can happen.

    "The most important thing is to get through the group stage and into the round of 16 and then we'll see what happens next."

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