Three Things: Celtic vs. AC Milan

Posted by John Brewin

GLASGOW, Scotland -- Three thoughts from AC Milan's 3-0 Champions League win away at Celtic.

1. Kaka, Milan’s beacon of hope

Kaka’s return to Milan after his torrid time at Real Madrid was the chance to return to his old club home. It was also an attempt to prove himself good enough to play for Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.

The devastating change of pace is gone, but the football brain still ticks. His body swerve is retained, though at less devastating effect. Back in 2007, he was without doubt the world’s best, but injury and a Madrid malaise have made him a lesser mortal. Displacing the likes of Chelsea’s Oscar in Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari’s thoughts seems unlikely, but at least Kaka is happy nowadays.

He suffered at the Bernabeu from not being Cristiano Ronaldo, or the type of player who fit in with Jose Mourinho, and from the knee problems the midfielder took with him from Milan.

Kaka talks now of enjoying his football, and the Milanese appreciate him during a troubled time for the club. He and veteran keeper Christian Abbiati were able to calm down angry Ultras -- and were applauded -- when they faced down a confrontation after the weekend draw with Genoa.

Milan is in Kaka's heart, and having taken a pay cut to be there in the first place, he even refused to accept a wage when he was injured at the start of this season. At a time when the club is riven by civil war and dwindling finances, he is a beacon of hope, an icon of happier days. Much of the time, he is playing from memory, and does that pointing thing that players whose legs have gone often do, but his class is permanent.

His early goal helped settle teammates who had seemed to be rocking under the Celtic onslaught. Sudden Milanese pressure forced Celtic into making a series of hurried errors. Kaka is hardly known for his headers -- again, he is no Ronaldo -- but it looped fair, true and into the goal.

A trademark surge into the heart of Celtic’s defence midway through the first half might even have killed the game off, but the pass to Mario Balotelli was overhit, and the striker’s shot was always unlikely from that angle. A shooting chance was presented to Kaka on the half-hour, and he formed the familiar shape from which he once scored so often for Milan. Fraser Forster was beaten, but so was the post.

At just 31, he has plenty left to offer Milan, even if he is no longer the genius of old. For 60 minutes he reminded why he was once so exalted. At times, it was a master class. He was too good for Celtic, and showed he might still be great for Milan.

2. Mistakes and Milan calm Parkhead

The Parkhead roar is unmatched across the continent. Its bellow of anticipation just before kickoff is loud enough to preclude clear thinking from anyone within a mile radius. Only Barcelona had beaten Celtic at their home in the Champions League group stage before, and they have also been vanquished here besides. Noise pollution has much to do with that proud record.

But roars turned into groans as Celtic failed to take advantage of Milan’s fragile psyche and then exposed their own. Only an early burst had Milan in true danger. All else were half-chances, and though there was a sense of anger at the officials and the Italians’ use of theatrical means to win decisions, there could be no conclusion other than Celtic being outclassed.

Milan added another name to the list of those who have conquered Parkhead. Like Juventus in February here, they took their chances while Celtic snatched at theirs. Milan were incisive where Celtic were not, calm in possession where the Bhoys were overtaken by their growing sense of urgency,

Chaotic defending ended the impossible dream, as did news that Ajax were beating Barcelona in the group’s other game. That left the Europa League as an impossibility, too.

Early pressure had the ground bouncing, but Derk Boerrigter's air shot denied an early lead. It was a chance as golden as that which Charlie Mulgrew missed in October’s defeat to Barca. Momentum was surrendered and Kaka soon scored from a free header. Errors like those have prevented Celtic in European football after Christmas. Virgil van Dijk has a wonderful name, but his marking of the Brazilian was less than stellar.

The unfortunate Dutchman was guilty of a horrid miss just after the break. All the goal was available but still he struck his shot at Abbiati. Parkhead's roar was heard only once more before it was prematurely quelled. Van Dijk -- who else? -- was a yard offside when he headed into the net. Moments later, Balotelli had finished the game as a contest and Celtic’s season in Europe.

The Green Brigade kept up their singing in the corner but the game was up.

3. Milan enjoy their Scottish holiday

Milan coach Max Allegri will not last if his team do not return to this competition next season, but his team played at Parkhead as if they were enjoying a break from their troubles back home.

Their fans are not giving up on them just yet. Glasgow was filled with Milanese accents, as was the plane up from London Gatwick, where the PA announcer was drowned out by the choruses of Rossoneri anthems. Silvio Berlusconi may have had to pull the plug on finances as he seeks to sort out his bunga bunga problems, but his lascivious exploits are still celebrated in song.

The Champions League might provide solace as one of Europe’s great names tries to rebuild itself. The team is full of aging stars but really should be doing better than 13th in Serie A. They also have Balotelli, quiet here, but scorer of the goal that killed Celtic, and it was apt that in this month of Movember, Cristian Zapata scored the second.

Neil Lennon had suggested that Milan would arrive in Glasgow as a wounded animal and, unfortunately for his team, the manager was proved correct. Progress to the next round relies on Milan holding off Ajax at San Siro, but they still possess the strength and firepower to do so.


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