Late Diego Costa goal lifts Atletico Madrid by AC Milan in UCL
MILAN (AP) - Atletico Madrid struggled throughout but managed to win 1-0 at AC Milan thanks to a late Diego Costa header in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie on Wednesday.
Diego Costa headed in Gabi's corner seven minutes from time to secure victory ahead of the return match in Madrid on March 11. Milan had dominated the match with its best performance of the season, hitting the woodwork three times in an entertaining first half hour.
Spain's joint league leader was the overwhelming favorite, but Milan was the superior side and had the better chances in Clarence Seedorf's first Champions League match as a manager. The Dutchman is the only player to have won the competition with three different clubs.
Stephan El Shaarawy, Valter Birsa, Robinho, Bryan Cristante and Cristian Zapata were all out with injury while Sulley Muntari and captain Riccardo Montolivo were both suspended. New signing Keisuke Honda is cup tied, having played in the Champions League this season for CSKA Moscow.
Milan was boosted by key playmaker Kaka recovering from injury in time and the Brazilian was given the captain's armband. Kaka overcame a bout of the flu to play in Friday's 1-0 victory over Bologna but had to be replaced 10 minutes from time after injuring his right ankle. There was more bad news for Milan as star striker Mario Balotelli went off clutching his shoulder as well.
Balotelli had the first real chance of the match with a 30-yard free-kick from roughly the same position that he scored a stunning goal from on Friday. But the Italy forward fired well wide of the left post.
Milan went even closer four minutes later with a wickedly swerving shot from Kaka from the bottom corner of the penalty area which crashed off the crossbar.
Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois - who is on loan from Chelsea - pulled off a stunning save shortly afterwards, fingertipping Andrea Poli's header off the base of his right post after a great cross from Adel Taarabt.
The Spanish side was struggling and Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati had little to do, although the former Atletico shotstopper managed to comfortably save Raul Garcia's header.
Tension was beginning to escalate at San Siro and a touchline brawl threatened to erupt following a poor Emiliano Insua tackle on Mattia De Scglio. The Milan defender had to be replaced by Ignazio Abate.
Milan again went close on the half hour when Balotelli back-heeled the ball to Kaka, whose effort scraped the top of the crossbar.
Atletico almost scored against the run of play six minutes later but Abate did well to put a cross out with Diego Costa lurking
The Rossoneri had penalty appeals turned down immediately after when Raul Garcia appeared to kick Poli in the back of the leg as the Milan midfielder was shaping up to shoot. Milan continued to dominate after the break and Kaka again went close with a drive narrowly past the left upright, while Michael Essien headed a corner wide.
Milan's stylish play was typified by a mazy run from Taarabt, who beat three players before crossing to Urby Emanuelson. The Dutchman played the ball back to Taarabt, whose effort was blocked.
All Milan's good work was to come to nothing, though, as Diego Costa headed powerfully home at the far post for his fifth goal in four Champions League matches. Milan almost snatched a draw but Adil Rami's free kick whistled wide of the left post.
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