Mario Balotelli’s penalty proved enough to give Milan a 1-0 away win over Alessandria, but the fairy-tale is still alive.
Alessandria were the first Lega Pro side to reach the Coppa Italia semi-finals since Bari in 1984 and had already eliminated the likes of Palermo, Genoa and Roma’s conquerors Spezia. They borrowed Torino’s Stadio Olimpico for the home leg of this clash, while the Rossoneri gave Balotelli his first start in four months.
Balotelli wasted an early chance, scuffing his volley on a Mattia De Sciglio cross at the near post, then his first touch horribly let him down when clear through the middle and he drilled another chance wide.
Michele Marras fired off target with Alessandria’s first chance after 17 minutes, while Balotelli fired straight at the goalkeeper after a give-and-go with Luca Antonelli.
On 34 minutes Andrea Poli’s strike forced Gianmarco Vannucchi to parry with his legs and Alessandria went on the counter, Simone Branca blasting over.
Balotelli really should’ve scored before the break when springing the offside trap on a splendid Keisuke Honda ball over the top, but he anticipated Vannucchi only to lob wide of an open goal.
Antonelli burst into the box and was brought down by Alessandria captain Santiago Morero for a penalty. Balotelli stepped up and converted, sending 20-year-old Vannucchi the wrong way.
After the restart Roberto Sabato’s block denied a certain Honda goal on Balotelli’s assist, though the Japan international really should’ve done better.
Ricardo Bocalon came off the bench and immediately had a chance to score his fourth Coppa Italia goal of the season, but drilled wide when he should’ve set up teammate Manuel Fischnaller, while Gianluca Nicco scuffed from the edge of the box.
Bocalon blasted just past the near post and Andrea Poli thought he’d made it 2-0, but M’Baye Niang was in an active offside position to block Vannucchi’s vision.
Alessandria kept the ball more and more as the game went on and Milan resorted to counter-attacks. They almost worked, as Niang sprung the offside trap and his angled drive was fingertipped on to the far post. In the final minute, Riccardo Montolivo tested Vannucchi from the edge of the area.
The second leg will be at San Siro on March 1 and Milan have a 1-0 lead with an away goal, but Alessandria's fairy-tale isn't over yet.
Alessandria 0-1 Milan
Scorers: Balotelli pen 43 (M)
Alessandria: Vannucchi; Sosa, Sirri, Morero, Sabato; Nicco, Loviso (Mezavila 60), Branca; Marras (Boniperti 82), Marconi (Bocalon 60), Fischnaller
Milan: Abbiati; De Sciglio, Zapata, Romagnoli, Antonelli; Honda, Poli, José Mauri (Montolivo 63), Boateng (Kucka 84); Balotelli (Niang 70), Luiz Adriano