It took him more than 90 minutes, but Cristiano Ronaldo eventually got the better of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
In Thursday Coppa Italia semifinal first leg between Ronaldo’s Juventus and Ibrahimovic’s AC Milan, the latter converted a stoppage time penalty kick, giving Juve a 1-1 tie ahead of the decisive second leg on March 4 in Turin:
From the moment Milan beat Torino and Juventus topped Roma in the quarters, this match had been billed as a showdown not just between the two longtime Serie A rivals, but of global icons Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, two of the sport’s most revered and accomplished players over the last two decades.
Yet neither star had much of impact on Thursday’s contest until Ronaldo converted his spot kick at the death. The 38-year-old Ibrahimovic, who joined Milan for the second time last month after dominating MLS in two seasons with the LA Galaxy, nearly scored just before Rebic’s strike, but Buffon dove to his right to palm the Swede’s shot around the post.
More consequential was the yellow card he picked up earlier on for throwing his arm into the face of Juve center back Matthijs de Ligt. The caution was Ibrahimovic’s second in the knockout stage of competition, and it will prevent him from playing in the do-or-die second leg against one of his many former clubs.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic exchanged pleasantries before the match. (Alberto Pizzoli/Getty)
Not insignificantly, the late draw also prevented Milan from securing victory over its longtime rival in this competition for the first time in 35 years. Juve’s hoodoo was on full display for the first hour on Thursday at the San Siro Stadium, with Juventus playing an almost flawless away match. Milan were more aggressive playing at home, as expected, and they peppered Juve’s backline with shots and harmless off-target half-chances. When they got the ball, they gave the hosts a devil of a time trying to get it back.
One lapse of concentration changed all that, though, with Juve gifting a sloppy 61st-minute goal to Ante Rebic.
Milan probably deserved its lead, having put more than three times as many shots on target. At that point, it sure looked as though the streak of Coppa futility against Juve would end. But a silly red card taken by defender Theo Hernandez cracked open the door for the guests, and referee Paolo Valeri determined, following a check of the video, that Milan’s Davide Calabria had handled the ball in the box.
After that, there was little doubt that Ronaldo — who has been deadly on penalties all season — would score to extend Milan’s misery and upstage Zlatan with one kick.
The winner of the return match will face either Napoli or Inter Milan in the final. Napoli leads Inter 1-0 in the two-leg, total goals series after beating Inter at the San Siro on Wednesday.
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