AC Milan have qualified for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2013/14 thanks to a 4-0 win over Red Bull Salzburg.
Salzburg started positively, looking to get forward at every opportunity. The danger for the Austrian side however was that Milan could counter attack with relative ease and in the fourth minute the Italian champions fired their first warning shot as Theo Hernandez struck the outside of the post.
The first goal in this clash was always going to be huge and it was Milan who struck first. Sandro Tonali provided a superb corner and Olivier Giroud rose to head home.
Milan snatch stoppage time winner to break Fiorentina hearts
Salzburg picked themselves up and finished the first half the better side, getting forward frequently and dominating possession but all without creating anything too clear cut.
Disaster struck for Salzburg just after half-time though, with Milan scoring just one minute after the restart. Giroud smartly headed a cross back across goal for Rade Krunic who headed past Philipp Kohn. The second goal proved decisive as it really took the wind out of Salzburg's sails and from that point on it was easy work for Milan.
Pioli's men added a third just ten minutes later, Rafael Leao evaded several defenders with some excellent close control before firing in a cross which Giroud smashed home to kill off the game. Substitute Junior Messias curled home a fourth in stoppage time to cap off a fine Milan performance.
They are back and with a point to prove.
TALKING POINT - AC MILAN BACK IN THE BIG TIME
They needed just a point today but it felt from the off that Milan wanted to make a statement. After a long nine seasons away from the UEFA Champions League knockout stages, Milan finally have a seat at the table with the best in Europe. The famous old stadium, the passionate supporters and the rich history, Milan is a Champions League club through and through and they will be delighted to be back in the big time.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH - OLIVIER GIROUD (AC MILAN)
A superb performance from the Frenchman. His positioning all night was fantastic and is the key reason why he managed to grab two goals tonight; and had he been a shade earlier for the offside chance he could have had another. His assist for Krunic's goal was intelligent and unselfish and a reminder of what Giroud can do in terms of creating chances for others. An utterly ruthless performance from the 36-year-old who is showing no signs of slowing down; 2 shots, 2 goals and he is back in the Champions League knockouts.
Tatarusanu 8, Kalulu 7, Kjaer 7, Tomori 7, Hernandez 8, Tonali 7, Bennacer 7, Rebic 6, Krunic 7, Leao 7, Giroud 9
Subs: Ballo-Toure 6, Messias 7, Pobega 6, De Ketelaere 6, Gabbia N/A
Kohn 5, Wober 6, Pavlovic 6, Solet 6, Dedic 5, Kjaergaard 8, Gourna-Douath 6, Seiwald 6, Sucic 6, Okafor 6, Adamu 6
Subs: Ulmer 6, Bernardo 6, Kameri 6, Koita 6, Sesko 6
4' OFF THE POST! - Theo Hernandez rifles a shot which crashes off the outside of the post. A huge chance early on for Milan.
14' GOAL - AC MILAN - You just cannot give Olivier Giroud that much room! A fantastic corner from Sandro Tonali is met by Giroud who heads home to put Milan in front. The first goal was always going to be huge in this game and that is a massive blow for Salzburg.
26' NO GOAL! - Olivier Giroud's second of the night has been ruled out for offside. It's still 1-0!
29' NO PENALTY! - VAR officials checked a potential penalty for Salzburg following a sliding challenge from Kalulu, but the referee has stuck to his original decision of no penalty.
46' GOAL - AC MILAN - What a start for Milan! Olivier Giroud heads back across goal to Krunic who heads home past Kohn! What a massive goal that could prove to be.
57' GOAL - AC MILAN - That will do it! Rafael Leao does brilliantly to skip past numerous challenges before firing a brilliant cross across the face of goal and Giroud is on hand to smash it home!
65' CROSSBAR - Rafael Leao smashes the crossbar! So close to 4-0. That's twice now Milan have struck the woodwork. No signs of Pioli's men stepping off the gas here.
91' GOAL - AC MILAN - Milan have made it fourt! The Brazilian Messias Jr with a terrific goal. He bombed down the right before coming inside on his left foot and wrapping it past Kohn. That goal caps off a sensational Milan performance.
36 - Olivier Giroud is the oldest player to be involved in 3+ goals in a Champions League match since Opta started collecting this kind of data (since 2003/04). - Via @OptaPaolo
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