Inter Milan maintained their stunning start to 2024 with a 4-0 triumph at struggling Lecce.

Lautaro Martinez (two), Davide Frattesi and Stefan De Vrij scored as Simone Inzaghi’s in-form team extended their winning run to 10 games in all competitions.

The result saw the Nerazzurri re-establish their nine-point cushion over second-placed Juventus, who earlier edged Frosinone 3-2, with a game in hand. In contrast, Lecce were left just four points above the drop zone having collected only five wins from 26 games.

Martinez was first to threaten for the visitors with an off-target header, before an Pontus Almqvist fired over for the Salentini at the other end after a free-kick had not been cleared.

Inter broke the deadlock in the 15th minute. Kristjan Asllani found Martinez with a neat pass and the Argentinian brought the ball under control before holding off Ahmed Touba and beating goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone with a low right-foot finish.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan dragged a left-foot shot wide as Inter sought to increase their advantage, before Antonio Gallo lashed wastefully wide for the hosts just past the half-hour mark.

Alexis Blin headed over three minutes after the restart as Roberto D’Aversa’s team sought an equaliser. However, their hopes of a comeback were ended by two goals in the space of three minutes.

Firstly, Martinez found Alexis Sanchez and the Chile international squared for Frattesi to convert from close range.

Inzaghi brought on Marco Barella for Asllani immediately after the goal and it was 3-0 soon after, Frattesi turning provider with a square pass for Martinez, who tucked away his 22nd goal of the Serie A season.

Roberto Piccoli fired over from distance for the hosts but substitute Lameck Banda had their best chance in the 66th minute, firing a left-foot shot just wide of the far post.

Inter went up the other end and made it 4-0 when De Vrij headed in Federico Dimarco’s corner unchallenged in the 67th minute.

A dismal night for the hosts was summed up when Piccoli fired weakly at Inter keeper Emil Audero, making his Serie A debut because of illness to regular number one Yann Sommer.

Denzel Dumfries wasted a chance to make it 5-0 with a minute remaining when he headed wide from close range.

However, it was a great night for Inzaghi, who was able to rest players and also made five substitutions, with an eye on Wednesday’s rescheduled San Siro clash against Atalanta.

AC Milan owner Gerry Cardinale has reiterated his commitment to the club and stressed he wants to return the Italian giants to the top of the European game.

The Rossoneri have endured an inconsistent season, featuring a disappointing group-stage exit from the Champions League while they trail fierce rivals Inter by 11 points in Serie A.

That has built pressure on Cardinale, chief executive of Milan owners RedBird Capital, following the controversial dismissal of directors Frederic Massara and Paolo Maldini last summer.

Amid continuing speculation over the future of head coach Stefano Pioli, who delivered the title to Milan in 2022, and talk of investment from Saudi Arabia, Cardinale has outlined his long-term vision for the seven-time European champions.

“I’m here to stay for a long time, I have a job to do. I’m committed to bringing Milan back to the top of Serie A and Europe and I won’t stop before I’ve achieved these results,” Cardinale said in an interview with Corriere della Sera.

“And when we have reached them, I will want to reach them again.

“We have changed a lot and it takes time to create a cohesive team. However, we are growing, close to second place, and credit for this must be given to the players, staff and coach. I will be satisfied when we win the Champions League.

“Not being happy at a certain stage doesn’t necessarily translate into firing the coach. I believe that Pioli is doing a good job in a difficult situation, with a very renewed team, I don’t give in to the temptation to fire someone just to change something.

“I’ll say, the season is still long, anything can happen, we’ll see. We need to improve in many things, with injuries for example. Everyone, starting with me, needs to do a better job. But I’m not quitting, I’ll be here for a long time. Nobody wants to win more than me.”

Milan’s form has been impressive either side of Christmas and Pioli’s team have lost just once in all competitions since December 9.

Thursday’s 3-0 Europa League first-leg victory at Rennes was a third straight win and the Rossoneri make the short trip to Monza on Sunday full of confidence.

Monza have won just one of their last five matches and sit 12th in Serie A.

“Milan have many qualities, they defend well and attack well. Pioli is doing an excellent job both in the league and in the Europa League,” Monza manager Raffaele Palladino said at his pre-match press conference.

“A team that knows what to do and when to do it. Difficult to face, but they are not unbeatable, we will try to put them in difficulty by exploiting a few weaknesses they have.”

AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli hopes his side can exorcise their Champions League disappointment in Thursday’s Europa League play-off against Rennes.

Milan face Ligue 1 side Rennes in the first leg at the San Siro Stadium after finishing third in their Champions League group.

The Rossoneri lost out on goal difference to second-placed Paris St Germain despite a 3-2 win at Newcastle in their final match.

Pioli told a press conference: “We go again from the disappointment in Newcastle and we’re focusing all of our energy on the Europa League.

“We know that you need to be at your very best in Europe and that’s what we want to do (on Thursday night).

“There are some good teams in this competition. We have to be ambitious, but we can’t look too far into the future. The tie will be decided in a week and this game is a huge one.”

Milan are currently third in the Serie A title race, one point behind Juventus and eight adrift of leaders Inter Milan.

Pioli’s side have dropped only two points in their last five league games and have lost only one of their previous 12 games in all competitions

“We need to look at both tournaments,” added Pioli, who hinted at making changes amid a heavy fixture schedule and after Sunday’s 1-0 home win against Napoli.

“I know where we want to finish in the league in terms of points and I know how far we want to go in Europe.

“I hope to play a lot from here until the end. All of the players will be involved because, for example, with five games in 15 days, it would be tough for a lot of them to play the full 90 in all of those.

“Making choices and excluding players is always difficult, but it’s also true that I know that I have players coming off the bench who can change a game.”

Netherlands midfielder Tijjani Reijnders is hoping to return to the starting line-up after missing out at the weekend through suspension.

Germany defender Malick Thiaw is back in contention after a long-term hamstring injury, while Nigeria forward Samuel Chukwueze (muscle strain) has targeted Sunday’s Serie A game at Monza for his return.

Theo Hernandez’s first-half strike gave AC Milan a sixth win from seven Serie A matches with a 1-0 victory over Napoli.

The reigning champions made a bright start but Hernandez’s goal changed the complexion of the match for a Napoli side low on confidence.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Matteo Politano hit the woodwork for the visitors after the break but they could not find an equaliser to prevent a seventh league defeat of the season.

Napoli created the first big chance of the game when Kvaratskhelia skinned Matteo Gabbia and sent a drilled delivery into the area but Giovanni Simeone could not guide his effort beyond goalkeeper Mike Maignan.

Walter Mazzarri’s side continued to make most of the running in the opening stages but AC Milan took the lead against the run of play through a devastating counter-attack as Rafael Leao slipped Hernandez through on goal and he whipped the ball past Pierluigi Gollini at the near post.

Milan had an opportunity to make it two moments later when Leao found himself with space outside the box but his bending effort was diverted away from the top corner by Gollini.

Napoli’s frustrations were compounded when Piotr Zielinski picked himself up after being fouled on the left of the area but wastefully sent a free-kick out for a goal-kick.

The visitors had the first chance of the second half when Politano tried his luck from 20 yards but his effort did not quite get the curl needed to nestle in the bottom corner.

Hernandez could have doubled his tally in style when a corner fell to the defender inside the area and his clever back-heeled volley flew into Gollini’s gloves.

Napoli responded with another chance, this time Kvaratskhelia cut in from the left but hit a rather tame strike into Maignan’s grasp.

The visitors gifted possession to Yunus Musah and offered Milan a chance to give themselves some breathing space but Leao struck wide of the far post.

Napoli began to run out of ideas and were limited to long-range efforts, the next being Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s shot from 25 yards which flew comfortably wide of the target.

The visitors’ flurry of second-half chances did not stop and they came within inches of levelling when Jesper Lindstrom’s cross was deflected onto a post by Jan-Carlo Simic as Milan held on.

AC Milan defender Marco Pellegrino has completed a loan move to Salernitana for the remainder of the season.

The 21-year-old Argentinian joined Milan’s struggling Serie A rivals a day after the move looked to have fallen through.

Pellegrino played for former club Platense until July last year before joining the Rossoneri, for whom he made his debut as a substitute in a 2-2 draw with Napoli in October, and was therefore deemed to have played for two clubs this season.

However, after reported talks with FIFA, both clubs announced the deal had gone through on deadline day.

A statement on Milan’s website on Thursday said: “AC Milan announces that Marco Pellegrino has signed for US Salernitana on loan until 30 June 2024. The club wishes Marco a great second half of the season.”

Salernitana’s statement said: “US Salernitana 1919 announces that it has reached an agreement with AC Milan for the temporary transfer until 30 June 2024 of defender Marco Pellegrino. The player will wear the number 24 shirt.”

AC Milan blew their chance to put pressure on the two teams above them in Serie A as Riccardo Orsolini’s late penalty snatched a 2-2 draw for Bologna in an eventful clash at the San Siro.

The hosts missed two penalties of their own but still looked set to take the three points when Ruben Loftus-Cheek headed his second goal of the game with just seven minutes left on the clock.

Loftus-Cheek had earlier cancelled out an opener from Joshua Zirkzee, but Milan’s wasteful spot-kicks cost them with both Olivier Giroud and Theo Hernandez failing to convert for the third-placed side.

Play at the San Siro had been stopped in the 16th minute in support of Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan, who suffered racial abuse in their match at Udinese last weekend.

Fans lit up the stadium with smartphone torches while a quote from Martin Luther King – “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that” – was shown on a big screen.

Milan were intent on a fifth straight win to close the gap on city rivals Inter, and Rafael Leao had the first real chance in the 19th minute when he fired straight at Bologna keeper Lukasz Skorupski.

But the lively visitors were rewarded for their early ambition in the 29th minute when Zirkzee lashed home a loose ball after Milan failed to clear around the edge of their box.

Milan responded through Simon Kjaer who fired over the bar from a dangerous Christian Pulisic cross, then Pulisic himself missed an opportunity after being played in by Loftus-Cheek.

Milan were awarded their first penalty in the 39th minute for a foul by Lewis Ferguson on Kjaer, but Giroud missed his chance with a soft spot-kick that was comfortably gathered by Skorupski.

But the hosts’ frustrations only lasted six minutes before Loftus-Cheek raced onto a cross from the left to grab his third goal in his last four games.

Zirkzee had two good chances to put the visitors back in front, while Tijjani Reijnders hit the woodwork before the hosts amazingly squandered another spot-kick.

With Giroud having been substituted, Theo Hernandez stepped up, but hit the post after Riccardo Calafiori had been penalised for his challenge on Leao.

Milan finally grabbed the lead for the first time in the 83rd minute when Loftus-Cheek rose highest to head past Skorupski and seemingly set his side on their way to another three points.

But there was to be a final twist and after Victor Kristiansen came close to levelling, Bologna were awarded a penalty of their own on the stroke of full-time, which Orsolini showed the hosts how it was done with a firm low strike.

AC Milan defender Alessandro Florenzi believes the time for talking about racist abuse in football is over and has called for “concrete action” to tackle the issue.

Milan’s players walked off the pitch during last Saturday’s 3-2 Serie A victory Udinese after goalkeeper Mike Maignan had reported gestures from the crowd behind his goal to referee Fabio Maresca.

The Udine club, which has banned one spectator for life as a result of the incident, have since been ordered to play their next home game behind closed doors, while police have handed out five-year bans to four more supporters.

However, asked about the events at the Bluenergy Stadium and the fall-out since, Florenzi told Milan TV: “I think that Mike has felt supported by a family, which is exactly what we are.

“When these incidents occur, I think it’s wrong to just say ‘enough’. The time for talk has long gone, concrete action is needed.

“Saying ‘enough’ is pointless. We need to lay solid foundations to tackle the issue. That’s what all institutions should do to stop such incidents occurring.

“As a team, I think we made an important gesture. I’d also like to commend the referee, Maresca, who I think dealt with the situation in the best way possible.”

Milan return to action on Saturday evening, when they host seventh-placed Bologna at the San Siro.

They head into the weekend sitting third in the table, but five points adrift of derby rivals Inter, who are second with a game in hand on both their neighbours and leaders Juventus.

Milan have won their last four league games and have tasted defeat only once in the nine fixtures they have played in all competitions since.

In contrast, Bologna are without a win in four in all competitions and have not collected all three points in Serie A since they beat fifth-placed Atalanta 1-0 on December 23.


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Florenzi said: “We’re building our path and taking it game by game. We’re focused on Bologna and not thinking about other matches and other teams.”


Bologna will once again be without the injured Alexis Saelemaekers and are working to get 20-year-old defender Mihajlo Ilic up to speed following his arrival from Partizan Belgrade, and head coach Thiago Motta knows they will have their work cut out at the San Siro.

He told a press conference: “They [Milan] are one of the candidates for the Scudetto, they always start very strongly.

“On Saturday we will have to try to impose our game, trying to be determined about what we want to do.”

AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan and his team-mates walked off the pitch during the first half of the 3-2 Serie A win at Udinese on Saturday evening.

The 28-year-old France international left the action shortly after his team had taken the lead, apparently indicating to referee Fabio Maresca that he had heard racist abuse from the crowd at the Stadio Friuli.

Maignan was followed by the other Milan players but they returned to the pitch soon after and play was able to resume around seven minutes after Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s goal had broken the deadlock.

Maignan was beaten three minutes later by a Lazar Samardzic shot, before substitute Florian Thauvin scored to give Udinese the lead.

However, fellow sub Luka Jovic earned the visitors a point with a close-range finish with eight minutes remaining, before another second-half replacement – Noah Okafor – won it in added-time.

Before the Maignan incident, Olivier Giroud had been denied in the 16th minute when his shot was saved at the near post by Udinese goalkeeper Maduka Okoye.

The France international striker had another chance three minutes later but he failed to get clean contact on a  ball from Theo Hernandez and Okoye saved.

The visitors opened the scoring in the 31st minute when Loftus-Cheek netted his third Serie A goal of the season,  sidefooting Hernandez’s cutback into the corner with the aid of a slight deflection.

After the incident involving Maignan,  the hosts levelled when Samardzic’s curling left-footed shot from just outside the area gave the goalkeeper no chance.

Udinese took the lead in the 62nd minute, through Thauvin. The 30-year-old former Newcastle winger capitalised on weak defending from Fernandez and Tijani Reijnders before beating the exposed Maignan with a left-footed shot.

Yacine Adli should have done better for the visitors when unmarked at the far post in the 79th minute, then Giroud headed wide, under pressure, soon after.

The visitors equalised in the 82nd minute, Jovic reacting quickly to finish off from close range after Giroud’s deflected shot had struck the bar, just seven minutes after the Serbian’s introduction.

Giroud saw a shot tipped over in added time before Okafor got the visitors’ winner in the third minute of added-time, blasting in unmarked at the far post after Giroud had won a header.

The goal extended Milan’s winning run to four matches and reduced the gap on table-topping city rivals Inter to six points.

AC Milan beat Roma 3-1 at San Siro to secure a third successive Serie A victory.

Milan went ahead through Yacine Adli’s low strike before Olivier Giroud doubled their lead with a header in the second half.

Roma threatened a comeback when Leandro Paredes pulled one back from the penalty spot but Theo Hernandez’s powerful effort made the game safe in the 84th minute.

Victory sees Milan remain third in the Serie A table, four points off second-placed Juventus, while Roma drop into ninth.

Although Roma started brightly, it was the hosts who took the lead 11 minutes in when Tijjani Reijnders flicked the ball to Adli on the edge of the box and the midfielder switched it onto his left foot to fire low into the bottom corner.

Milan took control of the game following their opener and dominated possession, but their next real shot did not come until the 28th minute when a quick run from Christian Pulisic was followed by an effort which was held by Mile Svilar.

They tested the visiting defence again minutes later when Hernandez burst down the left flank and his attempted cross rolled off the crossbar and behind.

Roma then had a chance on the half-hour mark as Bryan Cristante tapped the ball through to Mehmet Zeki Celik, who fired the ball towards the far post, forcing Mike Maignan into a fingertip save to turn the ball behind.

A brilliant cross from Rafael Leao on the left picked out Pulisic, who headed just wide, before Maignan made a good low save from Leonardo Spinazzola’s effort.

Milan started the second-half well and they had a great chance from Hernandez’s free-kick, but Matteo Gabbia’s header flew well wide.

They eventually doubled their lead in the 56th minute when a cross floated into Simon Kjaer on the right and he headed across into the six-yard box, where Giroud was lurking at the back post to nod home for his 10th league goal this season.

Milan had another chance when a curling low crossfield pass from Leao found Pulisic on the right but the American sliced his shot wide and Davide Calabria had a crack from distance fly past the post.

Roma were awarded a penalty when Lorenzo Pellegrini was fouled in the box and Paredes smashed the ball from the spot to pull one back in the 69th minute.

After their goal, the visitors began to get a grip on the game and continued to push moments later when Giroud headed away Pellegrini’s free-kick before the Roma midfielder had a powerful effort saved by Maignan.

However, Milan wrapped up victory in the 84th minute when a brilliant backheel from Giroud found Hernandez who hammered the ball over Svilar and into the roof of the net.

They nearly had another in the closing stages when Yunus Musah went on a curling crossfield run and hit the post.

AC Milan have allowed midfielder Rade Krunic to join Fenerbahce on loan.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina international has played 10 times for the Serie A club this season, but will spend the rest of the campaign in Turkey.

There is an obligation in the deal to make Krunic’s switch a permanent transfer should certain conditions be met.

Krunic moved to the San Siro in 2019 from Empoli and has made more than 100 appearances for Milan, but looks set to continue his career away from the Italian outfit.

“The club would like to wish Rade all the best for this coming adventure,” a Milan statement read.

Stefano Pioli is suitably wary of a backlash from Jose Mourinho’s wounded Roma as AC Milan look to make a positive response of their own to a midweek cup setback when the Serie A giants clash at San Siro on Sunday.

The Rossoneri were dumped out of the Coppa Italia quarter-finals by Atalanta on Wednesday night, with Roma enduring a derby defeat by Lazio to exit the competition.

Pioli’s Milan are better placed in the league as they occupy third place – six points clear of Fiorentina – compared to a lowly eighth for Mourinho’s men, but the home boss knows complacency could soon lead to disaster for the 2021-22 Scudetto winners.

He said at a press conference: “We have to recover straight away, we have to do it for own good and for the fans.

“We are Milan – criticism is part of the game. From day one I’ve always made sure my players are in the best condition possible to express themselves.

“We’re in the second half of the season now and we have to do even better than we did in the first half, making sure we at least guarantee ourselves third place.

“If we can then achieve even more then we will try and do our best but that isn’t entirely up to us. We have to prove we can improve significantly.

“I’m expecting an open and competitive match in which we’ll have to produce a high-level performance and win all our one-on-one battles.

“Roma are experienced, physical and organised, they don’t concede many and know how to hurt you whether going forward or from dead balls.

“Mourinho is a top boss and you can always tell it’s a big match when he heaps praise on his opponent.”

Beyond Wednesday’s upset, Roma are struggling for league form, winning only one of their last five and getting nothing away from home since beating Sassuolo in Emilia-Romagna on December 3.

Trying to put the Lazio loss to bed, Mourinho told “It’s very easy. The game is over and we lost. We did many things well in accordance with our limitations. We did other things not well. We analysed what we did well and not well yesterday.

“We talked, we analysed, always seeking to improve within our limitations. And we start again, from my personal point of view, as I have done for over 23 years.

“Game played, game analysed, game over. And next game. There is no other story.”

On Milan, he added: “I face a team who play for the title, a team that won the Scudetto two years ago, a team who play to win the Scudetto, even if this year the distance in points between them and Juventus and Inter is a distance that will not be easy to bridge. They will put everything into this match.”

AC Milan have announced the signing of Filippo Terracciano on a four-and-a-half-year deal.

The 20-year-old defender arrives at the club from Hellas Verona until June 30, 2028.

He began his career with Verona and made his senior debut for the club in December 2021 against Empoli in the Coppa Italia.

Terracciano then made his Serie A debut against the same opposition in March 2022.

He has since made 39 appearances in total for Verona in the league and has been a key cog for the Serie A strugglers this season, playing 18 of their 19 league matches.

Terracciano represents Italy on the international stage and earned a call-up to their under-21 squad in November 2022, making his debut in a friendly against Germany.

AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli hopes the recent appointment of senior advisor Zlatan Ibrahimovic can provide the spark to help his side bridge the gap to Serie A’s top two ahead of their trip to bottom club Salernitana.

Pioli’s men go into the game five points behind second-placed Juventus but buoyed by the arrival of former hero Ibrahimovic, who is expected to be present in Salerno.

Pioli told a press conference: “He’s the same Zlatan. He is approaching a different role but he is curious and determined.

“I saw a motivated Ibra and it was an interesting day. He is an added value for me and the club, but he has great experience and he is a symbol of those who challenge the challengers.”

Pioli’s men still find themselves amid a mounting injury crisis having lost both Tommaso Pobega and Noah Okafor to muscle injuries during the comfortable weekend win over Monza.

“We’re still in an emergency situation that we want to normalise as much as possible,” added Pioli.

“We’re working to return to normality. We have a busy few weeks ahead of us, and the aim is to get as many players back as possible. We’re working on certain situations, especially on an individual level, to improve everyone’s condition.”

Pioli revealed that Ismael Bennacer will play from the start as he continues his return following a seven-month lay-off with an ankle ligament injury.

However, there remains some concern in Milan over Bennacer’s inclusion in the provisional Algeria squad for the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

“He’s now in better shape and will start in Salerno, and he will remain on the pitch for as long as he has the energy needed to help us,” added Pioli.

“As regards his national team, we’re not the ones who decide the calendar. If he accepts the call-up to play for Algeria, he’ll take part in the African Nations Cup. It will be up to us to find solutions.”

Bottom club Salernitana head into the game on the back of three straight defeats including a 4-1 loss at Atalanta on Monday night that kept their points for the season in single figures.

They are managed by Filippo Inzaghi, who made over 200 appearances for Milan between 2001 and 2012, and Pioli is relishing another meeting with a man so steeped in the club’s history.

“Pippo made history with AC Milan,” said Pioli. “He gave a lot to the club, won many titles, and entered the Rossoneri fans’ hearts.

“He knows that it’s normal to experience difficult moments in our profession. I wish him a lot of luck, even if we’ll be opponents tomorrow and looking to get the better of one another.”

Teenager Jan-Carlo Simic announced himself with a goal on his Serie A debut as AC Milan eased to victory over Monza.

The 18-year-old, a first-half replacement for the injured Tomasso Pobega, scored from close range after Tijjani Reijnders had given the home side a third-minute lead at San Siro on Sunday.

Fellow substitute Noah Okafor rounded off a slick team move late on to cement a 3-0 win four days after Milan had come from behind at Newcastle to secure a Europa League berth.


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Victory, just a third in eight attempts in the league, will have come as a relief to under-pressure head coach Stefano Pioli, whose side are now five points adrift of second-placed Juventus in the table, but as many clear of Napoli in fourth.


Buoyed by their success on Tyneside in midweek, the Rossoneri set off in determined fashion and had already seen Olivier Giroud head wastefully over when they took a third-minute lead.

Netherlands international Reijnders took matters into his own hands as he surged through three challenges and into the penalty area before shooting through keeper Michele Di Gregorio’s legs.

Di Gregorio then had to get down well to keep out Theo Hernandez’s eighth-minute strike after Rafael Leao had made good ground down the left.


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The visitors responded and on-loan Milan man Lorenzo Colombo fired into the sidenetting on the turn with Roberto Gagliardini perhaps better-placed, but Ruben Loftus-Cheek saw a deflected attempt loop just over Di Gregorio’s crossbar before the keeper palmed away Alessandro Florenzi’s long-range effort.


It took a fine save by Di Gregorio to keep out Florenzi’s 40th-minute drive, but he was beaten seconds later when substitute Simic applied the finishing touch after Leao had turned smartly away from Matteo Pessina and crossed, before the crossbar denied Christian Pulisic an eye-catching third.

Leao returned seemingly intent on enjoying himself as he embarked upon a series of enterprising runs deep into enemy territory, but it was Simic who went close when he headed wide from a 53rd-minute corner.

Substitute Patrick Ciurria sent a long-range shot over Mike Maignan’s crossbar, but the France international had to make a solid save to keep out Andrea Colpani’s strike.

However, the home side increased their lead in style with 13 minutes remaining when Giroud produced a sublime lay-off from Reijnders’ pass to set up Okafor to score.

Giroud might have got his name on the scoresheet at the end but he failed to make the most of a pacy counter-attack as the visitors were spared further punishment.

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe defended his players after a Europa League place slipped from their grasp as they tried to secure a Champions League berth.

The Magpies were dumped out of Europe all together as a result of their 2-1 home defeat by AC Milan on a night when they had one foot in the last 16 of the premier competition, then looked destined for the lesser only to end up empty-handed.

Had the game finished 1-1, Howe’s men would have taken the group’s Europa League spot with Paris St Germain having secured second place behind group winners Borussia Dortmund after a 1-1 draw in Germany, but substitute Samuel Chukwueze’s late strike ensured it was the Serie A side who claimed it instead.

Asked if they might have played for a draw as time ran down, Howe said: “We wanted to qualify for the Champions League for sure. That was very much our intention before the game and in-game.

“I’m not sure in that moment you can take that will away from the players. If you look at the goals we’ve conceded, they’ve come from mistakes that can happen in any moment whether you are being proactive or reactive.

“Of course I take ownership of that, but I’d much rather have the intention to go and attack and to try to win rather than the other way round.”

Joelinton’s 33rd-minute piledriver had put Newcastle in the driving seat and their position improved further when Dortmund went ahead, but PSG levelled minutes later and crucially, so did the Italians through Christian Pulisic.

Goalkeeper Mike Maignan managed to turn a goal-bound Bruno Guimaraes shot on to his crossbar as the Premier League side sought the victory which would have kept them in the competition, but Chukwueze’s late intervention amid a chaotic conclusion proved decisive.

Howe said: “We’re desperately disappointed. It’s tough to take at the moment. The lads played very well in that first half and I thought we were good value.

“I was hoping the goal would come earlier than it did. Second half, we wanted to try to consolidate that and look for the second goal.

“I was really disappointed with the first goal we conceded because I think that is the key moment. We didn’t deal with a second-phase set-play well enough – it was an uncharacteristic goal, really, for us to concede and then the game became very transitional.

“It was end-to-end from both teams, both teams looking to win, and we conceded on one of those transitions.”

For opposite number Stefano Pioli, who headed into the game at St James’ Park under pressure and with former striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic having been drafted in as a senior adviser, there were mixed feelings.

Pioli said: “We definitely wanted to continue our path in the Champions League and that is very difficult. It was a bittersweet evening.

“What we could do this evening we did. Of course we’re disappointed about the Champions League and we regret it. Clearly we’re disappointed, but we also have the conviction that we’re a team that can do well.”

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