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Zlatan and Calhanoglu helps Ac Milan to progress to next stage


Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked up where he left off last season as he opened his 2020-21 account with a goal in Milan’s 2-0 Europa League second qualifying round win over Shamrock Rovers.

The veteran striker scored 11 times in 20 appearances after signing a short-term deal with the Rossoneri last term and he looked sharp in his first competitive outing for this campaign in Dublin.

Ibrahimovic fired the Serie A side into a 23rd-minute lead when he collected Hakan Calhanoglu’s clever pass.

Calhanoglu perhaps outshone even Ibrahimovic on the night, though, and he got the goal his performance deserved midway through the second period to make sure of Milan’s progress to a home tie with Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt.

Ibrahimovic ended the previous season with five goals in his last four appearances and he looked in the mood early when heading Calhanoglu’s free-kick over.

Jack Byrne, Shamrock’s own dangerman, then threaded a brilliant pass through to Aaron Greene, whose low effort was kept out by Gianluigi Donnarumma, but Ibrahimovic would soon open his account.

Defender Roberto Lopes failed to clear his lines and Theo Hernandez and Calhanoglu were both involved in Milan’s build-up, the latter turning the ball around the corner for Ibrahimovic to produce a clinical finish.

Calhanoglu looked determined to double his side’s lead in the second period, producing a bicycle kick that came back off the crossbar and then forcing Alan Mannus into a sharp save with a vicious free-kick.

Eventually he did find a way through when brilliantly picking out the top-right corner of the net following Alexis Saelemaekers’ lay-off to make sure of the win.

What does it mean? Ibrahimovic and Calhanoglu a class apart

Milan did not play in Europe last year due to a punishment over Financial Fair Play breaches and they looked determined to make up for lost time with a fine performance. Ibrahimovic and Calhanoglu appeared to be playing on a different wavelength to everyone else, producing 11 key passes between them.

Calhanoglu pulls the strings

Ibrahimovic turns 39 next month and shows no signs of slowing down, but Milan boss Stefano Pioli will have been particularly pleased with 26-year-old Calhanoglu’s display. The Turkey international had a goal, an assist, produced nine crosses and had seven shots on goal.

Saelemaekers overshadowed by Milan’s big guns

Though he had an assist, Saelemaekers largely flew under the radar in Dublin, touching the ball only 33 times – by far the fewest of any of Milan’s starting outfield players. With new signings Brahim Diaz and Sandro Tonali making late cameos, Saelemaekers needs to make the most of his starts when they come.

What’s next?

Milan begin their Serie A campaign at home to Bologna on Monday before their next Europa League clash. Shamrock, leaders of their domestic league in Ireland, host Waterford on the same day.

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