Diego Costa scored a crucial away goal as Atletico Madrid claimed a 1-0 win in Milan in the Champions League last 16.
An even affair was goalless for much of the match until Costa met Ignazio Abate’s looped attempted clearance at from a corner at the far post, powering into the back of the net despite being on his heels.
Milan had plenty of the game either side of half-time and a couple of super saves from Thibaut Courtois were needed to keep the home side out.
The goalkeeper’s excellence was rewarded late on by Costa’s predatory effort, the goal putting Atletico in a strong position for the second leg in March.
Diego Simeone named Raul Garcia in support of Costa, keeping David Villa on the bench and sticking with his favoured double pivot formation.
Clarence Seedorf’s debut line-up as a Champions League Coach included a number of former La Liga players, from goalkeeper Christian Abbiati, who had a year with Atleti, to ex of Valencia Adil Rami in defence and former Real Madrid pair Michael Essien and Kaka
Atletico made the brighter start, hogging the ball in the first 10 minutes but Kaka’s powerful, deflected effort tipped onto the bar by Courtois shot seemed to jumpstart Milan into life.
Minutes later Andrea Poli’s header was miraculously saved by Courtois – the Belgian pushing the ball onto the post – as Milan began to commit players forward.
From then on the first half was almost all Milan, Atletico enjoying only brief and unproductive forays forward, most usually in the form of crosses flashed across the penalty area with no one able to convert.
That was before Kaka went close a second time after Balotelli teed him up with a back heel but the Brazilian curled over the crossbar.
The second half began much like the first with Atleti seeing more of the ball and their play carried a bit more of an edge, Costa sending an audacious overhead kick over the bar from a deep Juanfran cross.
But Milan were lively throughout and made a good job of regaining possession, Essien rolling back the years and forming a solid midfield partnership with Nigel de Jong. Essien even went close with a header from a corner just past the hour mark.
Adel Taarabt also looked the part as his direct running caused Atletico problems all evening, offering the hosts a dynamism distinctly lacking from Atleti. Simeone’s side worked hard but rarely troubled the Rossoneri defence.
Balotelli was forced off with a shoulder injury with a quarter of an hour to play as Atleti ended the game on the front foot, having more sights of goal in the closing stages than in the entirety of the rest of the game. Raul Garcia exacerbated a painful shin wound with one, being replaced by Adrian right after.
Costa netted in the final few minutes to give Atletico a vital away goal and while Rami went close were a thunderous effort, Atletico were able to see the game out with their lead intact.
Milan 0-1 Atletico
Scorer: Costa 83
Atletico: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Insua; Gabi, Mario Surez; Koke, Raul Garcia (Adrian 81), Arda Turan (Rodriguez 74); Diego Costa
Milan: Abbiati; De Sciglio (Abate 25), Rami, Bonera, Emanuelson; De Jong, Essien; Poli (Constant 85), Kaka, Taarabt; Balotelli (Pazzini 78)