AC Milan launched a smash and grab raid to upset favourites Barcelona on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 clash care of Ghana via Portsmouth.
Ghana international Kevin-Prince Boateng opened the scoring during the second half in controversial circumstances after an apparent handball by Cristian Zapata in the build-up, and fellow Black Star and former Portsmouth team-mate Sulley Muntari finished off a counterattack for the second goal with minutes to go.
Barca dominated possession, as they always do, but were unable to convert their dominance into goals in the face of impressive defensive resistance from the Rossoneri, who now look like convincing favourites to advance to the last eight, even if they have to now face the formidable Catalans at their always imposing Camp Nou .
In the absence of the cup-tied Mario Balotelli, Massimiliano Allegri called on Giampaolo Pazzini to partner Stephan El Shaarawy up front, while Xavi passed a late fitness test to start in midfield for the visitors.
As expected, Milan were put under significant pressure by the quick-passing football of Barcelona, but, to their credit, were able to stifle the Blaugrana in great numbers, and force them to bide their time with patient passes outside the area.
Mexes was shown a 25th minute yellow card for tripping up Lionel Messi, but the first half passed with little incident as Barca could do little with all their possession, while Milan’s rare forays forward were snuffed out almost as quickly as they began.
The second half progressed in much the same vein as the first with Barca on top, but, just before the hour mark, Milan would take the lead out of nowhere in controversial circumstances.
Kevin Constant laid off a free kick to Riccardo Montolivo, whose shot definitely appeared to cannon off the hand of Zapata. There was no call from the referee, however, and Barca were stunned as Boateng steadied himself to finish from the edge of the box.
Animated protests from the visitors only led to a booking for Gerard Pique, and Barca’s frustration continued in front of goal, with Andres Iniesta’s fizzing drive from distance about the best they could muster.
With 81 minutes on the clock, Milan entered dreamland when a sweeping move on the break saw M’Baye Niang release El Shaarawy into the area, who in turn teed up the advancing Muntari for a precise finish across the goalkeeper from inside the box.
The San Siro was rocking with pride and disbelief, and Barca simply could not find a way back into the match in the time that remained, setting up an enticing second-leg at Camp Nou in three weeks, with the Catalans needing to score at least three unanswered goals.