Stalemate gives Milan slight edge
© AFP

AC Milan and Marseille drew 1-1 in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday to give the Italians a slight edge in the race for the knock-out stages.

With Real Madrid winning 1-0 at home to FC Zurich, they now lead Milan by two points with the French team a further point behind in Group C. Marseille must beat the Spaniards in France in two weeks to have any chance of progressing but if they do win, Milan will have to beat Zurich in Switzerland or it will be them who crash out.

We wanted to qualify today but we drew, now we have to go to Zurich and play with a lot of concentration.
AC Milan coach Leonardo

Milan were left holding on for the point at the end as the visitors hit the woodwork but coach Leonardo said it was a fair result. "Maybe Marseille had the clearer chances but we also had chances in the second half, it seems to me that a draw was fair," he said. "I'm optimistic (about qualification). Marseille had played on Friday and had five days of rest, we only had three. They had more energy and that played a role. We wanted to qualify today but we drew, now we have to go to Zurich and play with a lot of concentration."

The draw meant Milan failed to win any of their three home matches in this competition. "It's strange, in the past San Siro has been a fortress but this year we're struggling," admitted striker Marco Borriello.

Marseille coach Didier Deschamps, who was a member of the Marseille side that beat Milan in the 1993 Champions League final, was not happy. "It is not a very good result, because we needed to win," said the boss, who guided Monaco to the 2004 Champions League final. "Seeing what my team did here, there was every chance we should have won. However, the dream is still possible. We have a small chance."

Milan were quickly on the attack at the San Siro as Andrea Pirlo dinked a ball over the defence for Gianluca Zambrotta, who shrugged off a weak physical challenge from Laurent Bonnart, but his low shot from a tight angle was straight at goalkeeper Steve Mandanda and Marco Borriello's follow-up was deflected behind for a corner.

Yet on 10 minutes Milan were ahead following dreadful defending from Marseille as Mamadou Niang gave the ball away on the halfway line, allowing Borriello to run at Gabriel Heinze and get past the former Manchester United and Real Madrid man with embarrassing ease before slipping the ball under Mandanda.

The lead lasted only six minutes, though, as more lax defending contributed to the restoration of parity. Niang beat Oddo far too easily on the left and Alessandro Nesta came across to cover but seemed to pull out of the challenge, allowing Niang to hit a cross that goalkeeper Dida could only palm out to Lucho Gonzalez, who rifled home into the empty net.

A couple of minutes later Lucho hit a left-footer that had Dida sweating as he watched it fly just past the angle of post and bar. There was more poor defending on 25 minutes as Thiago Silva's long ball from his own half sent Borriello clear of the defence, but Souleymane Diawara just managed to bend his leg around the striker and clip the ball as the Italian went to pull the trigger.

Niang was troubling Milan's right and late in the half he got down the line once morem, but his cut-back was just behind strike-partner Brandao.

Brandao blunder
The second half was a calm affair until 65 minutes when Brazilian Brandao somehow contrived to miss an open goal. Benoit Cheyrou slipped Niang in behind substitute Ignazio Abate and his cross picked out Brandao on the edge of the six yard box but with the goal gaping he somehow managed to direct the ball onto the bar.

A quarter of an hour from the end, Abate escaped what looked a clear shirt pull on substitute Hatem Ben Arfa in the box after the right-back had lost the ball to the former Lyon midfielder. Then eight minutes from time Ronaldinho picked out Borriello in the box but the striker's header was weak and dribbled wide.

Ronaldinho then almost caught out Mandanda with a cross-cum-shot before Bakari Kone escaped up the other end on the break, but with Brandao unmarked at the back post, his poor control allowed Abate to clear the danger. From the corner Diawara's header agonisingly came back off the foot of the post.