Milan: Malaga are through to the knockout stage in their first Champions League campaign despite conceding a late equalizer to draw 1-1 with AC Milan on Tuesday and ruin their perfect record. Milan forward Alexandre Pato's 73rd-minute header was the first goal Malaga has allowed in five Champions League matches, including the final round of playoffs against Panathinaikos, but the Spanish side remain top of Group C with 10 points. Milan are five points further back in second place. "It's a very important victory for us to get to the knockout stages with two games in hand," Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini said. "We've achieved our goal early. Everyone thought we should be happy just to be in the competition, but instead we're through to the next round after a draw at somewhere like San Siro.
"It's a relief that we're through but we will do our utmost to qualify top of the group, so we will work very hard in the next two games. We won't relax just because we're through." The result is even more impressive with Malaga in deep financial trouble and having sold some of its best players in the offseason. Eliseu put Malaga ahead against the run of play in the 40th minute after goalkeeper Willy had pulled off two tremendous saves to deny Bojan Krkic and Urby Emanuelson. However, Pato scored his first goal since Jan 18 after having been out injured for eight months.
"If we had won we would have been on seven points and we would have had more chances of getting through to the next round," Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said. "We still have a good chance though, but we have to fight in the last two matches and I believe, looking at the standings and results, that the last game will be the decisive one. "We had a good game. Paradoxically in the first half, we created more despite playing with less intensity. Then in the second half, Malaga struggled to get out of their area, but we didn't have many chances. We shouldn't forget we are the only team, today and tomorrow, to have four or five players on the pitch between the ages of 20 and 22."
Milan were hit by an early blow when Ignazio Abate was forced off in the sixth minute after being unable to shake off an injury he picked up in the warm-up. He was replaced by Mattia De Sciglio. The first shot on goal came in the 16th minute with a tame effort by Eliseu, which was easily saved by Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. That seemed to serve as a wake-up call for Milan, which almost took the lead following some good work on the left side of the area by Stephan El Shaarawy. The young striker cut the ball back to Bojan, who tried to pick out De Sciglio, but it was comfortably gathered by goalkeeper Willy.
Willy did even better moments later, diving at full stretch to tip Bojan's 20-yard effort around the post. Milan went close again, with Bojan crossing for El Shaarawy's shot to hit Malaga defender Weligton. Willy pulled off another fantastic save in the 27th minute to turn Emanuelson's 20-yard free kick around his right post. However, all of Milan's good work was undone five minutes before halftime following a moment of magic from Isco, whose delightful through ball allowed Eliseu to drill the ball into the bottom corner. Emanuelson almost leveled on the stroke of halftime but his effort skimmed the top of the crossbar from 20 yards.
Milan struggled to carve out decent opportunities after the break. Emanuelson blazed an effort over the bar when he could have passed to a teammate in a better position. The home fans at San Siro, which was more than half empty with less 31,000 people in attendance, were beginning to show their frustration and loud boos rang out when El Shaarawy — Milan's leading scorer this season — was substituted for Kevin-Prince Boateng shortly after the hour mark. Boateng's first touch was a long-range effort which he hoofed woefully over the bar. Milan leveled in the 73rd minute when Pato headed in Constant's cross. There was more good news for Milan when Robinho came off the bench for the final 10 minutes for his first appearance after almost a month out with a thigh injury.