AC Milan wastes “Champions League return guarantee”

Milan missed an opportunity to secure a return to the Champions League, after they drew 0-0 with Cagliari in the Italian league, on Sunday. A victory over the 16th-placed team would ensure the Lombardians finished the season in the semi-finals, and play in the Champions League for the first time since the 2013-2014 season. But Stefano Pioli’s side came out with a disappointing draw to score 76 points in third place before entering the final round. Milan is equal in points with Napoli, fourth in the standings, but it is better in the direct confrontation, and the two teams are one point ahead of Juventus, who is fifth. Milan relied on long-range shots in the first half and risked falling back in the second half, but goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma shone and prevented two attempts by headers from Leonardo Pavoletti and Diego Godin. Cagliari, who have 37 points, celebrated staying in the limelight before kick-off, after 18th-placed Benevento tied with Crotone earlier on Sunday. Milan will play second-placed Atalanta in the final round, on Sunday, and Napoli host Verona, tenth in the rankings, while Juventus will play away to Bologna, who is 11th. Milan played without scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but entered the match in high spirits after defeating Turin and Juventus last week. Milan received a new boost when Benevento drew with Crotone, which means that Cagliari will guarantee survival and may not play with the same ferocity, but the “Rossoneri” made a modest offer and created few chances. Alexis Silmakers hit a powerful ball saved by goalkeeper Alessio Cranio, and his teammate David Calabria fired a long-range shot. Donnarumma maintained a level after the break, using his feet to stop a header from Pavoletti at close range before saving his hand an attempt with a header from Godin. Pioli used the substitutes, and Samo Castillejo was their most active, but the Spaniard lacked accuracy and fired two balls outside the goal before launching a shot that hit Godin’s head and changed direction.

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