Olivier Giroud shot Milan back into European football’s elite on Wednesday with his brace in a 4-0 win over Salzburg which granted his team passage to the Champions League knockout stages.
Milan needed a point in front of over 70,000 fans at the San Siro to reach the last 16 for the first time since the 2013/14 season but they cruised through thanks to Giroud.
The France striker netted in each half, set up Rade Krunic’s header just after half-time which doubled the hosts’ lead and was also involved in Junior Messias’ stoppage-time strike which rounded off the scoring.
Seven-time European champions Milan finished Group E in second place, three points behind winners Chelsea and will be a team to watch out for in Monday’s draw.
In Rafael Leao and Theo Hernandez, who both struck the woodwork, Milan have two of the most exciting left-sided players in the world who could damage almost any opponent, as well as a veteran striker with four goals in this season’s Champions League.
Salzburg had to win to leapfrog Milan and Matthias Jaissle’s team drop down to the Europa League after finishing in third place, four points behind the Italians.
Milan coach Stefano Pioli said pre-match that Milan would play to win and Hernandez almost put the hosts ahead in the third minute, a characteristic burst down the left ending with a low shot which skimmed off the outside of the far post.
Fikayo Tomori stopped Maurits Kjaergaard from giving Salzburg a shock lead in the 11th minute by throwing himself at the Dane’s shot.
And his tackle proved decisive as Giroud nodded Milan ahead moments later after being left completely alone at Sandro Tonali’s corner.
The San Siro’s celebrations were almost cut short straight away as Kjaergaard had another effort blocked and Junior Adamu shot straight at Ciprian Tatarusanu from close range after spinning Tomori.
Salzburg could consider themselves unfortunate not to be level at the break as after going behind they pinned back Milan, but they were effectively eliminated 41 seconds after the restart.
Giroud was again involved, this time heading Ante Rebic’s cross back across goal for Krunic to bullet in a perfect header which sent the home fans into party mode.
Now needing to score three times to stay in Europe’s top club competition, Salzburg crumbled and Giroud made absolutely sure of Milan’s passage in the 57th minute.
Leao, who had up to this point been threatening but inconclusive, went on a mazy run which confused most of the crowd and took him across Salzburg’s penalty area.
However the Portugal winger eventually managed to flash a low cross into the box which wormed its way to Giroud, who smashed in his eighth Milan goal of the season in all competitions.
Leao would have had a goal of his own had he not hit the underside of the crossbar after charging to meet the irrepressible Hernandez’s low cross.
And with the crowd spending the final minutes doing Mexican waves, Messias collected Giroud’s pass, cut inside and curled home a beautiful fourth which capped off a perfect night for Milan who were drowned in loud, and deserved applause at the final whistle.
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