A last-gasp 2-1 defeat to Atalanta wrecked Milan’s Europa League ambitions after an ugly incident of racist abuse.
The Rossoneri had won six of their last seven games and were challenging for a Europa League spot, but Clarence Seedorf was still under fire from President Silvio Berlusconi. He stuck with the 4-3-1-2 system used against Inter, but Keisuke Honda came in for Adel Taarabt, while Marco Amelia replaced the suspended Christian Abbiati. Atalanta had mid-table comfort, but revamped the defence with Mario Yepes, Guglielmo Stendardo, Stefano Lucchini and Riccardo Cazzola injured, plus Marcelo Estigarribia banned.
It was a bright start for the hosts, as Carlos Carmona had a very early chance charged down and Maxi Moralez fired off target. At the other end, a series of Rossoneri corners caused problems, but nobody could get the final touch.
A German Denis glancing header was off target and the Orobici wasted a promising counter-attack with Carmona firing straight at Amelia.
Nigel De Jong performed an acrobatic overhead kick that turned into an assist for Philippe Mexes, but he was just unable to get his head to it at the back post.
Milan’s defence managed to leave Maxi Moralez – the shortest player in Serie A – with a totally free header from a Luca Cigarini set piece, but he steered it wide.
Kaka also nodded straight at the goalkeeper before Balotelli had a fantastic chance to score on 41 minutes. He curled a free kick from a tight angle down the left side of the field and it sailed over Andrea Consigli to smack the crossbar.
Moments later Riccardo Montolivo slammed his shot into the side-netting, while Consigli struggled to beat away a viciously swerving Balotelli free kick from distance. The move continued for Honda to nod wide.
Stephan El Shaarawy made his first appearance since undergoing surgery for a fractured foot in December. Kaka turned a header over the bar and Balotelli was halted clear on goal by a tight offside decision.
Milan did eventually break through with a huge stroke of luck. Sulley Muntari burst down the left and rolled across for Balotelli, but Giampaolo Bellini dived in to intercept and accidentally prodded it past his own goalkeeper. It was particularly harsh on Atalanta, as Balotelli was offside.
However, Atalanta got the chance to get back into the game when Kevin Constant clumsily tripped Carmona in the box. Denis stepped up and sent Amelia the wrong way with a delicate finish to draw the hosts level.
Mexes was furious at the decision and moments later received yellow cards for a head-to-head with Cristian Raimondi, though it could’ve been a red for both. Soon after, there was another flashpoint, as an Atalanta supporter threw a banana at Constant, so De Jong and Mexes reacted with sarcastic applause towards the racists responsible.
A Montolivo mis-kick almost turned into an assist for Giampaolo Pazzini, but Bellini was decisive when blocking the shot from six yards.
Balotelli had a free kick from a very promising position, but blasted it into the wall, then curled over from the edge of the box.
SuperMario hit the woodwork for the second time with an audacious strike from the outside edge of the penalty area that flashed across Consigli to crack against the far post.
Balotelli had another effort that was going on target, but Benalouane got a decisive touch to deflect it over. Atalanta also threatened on the counter before El Shaarawy tracked back brilliantly to stop Giuseppe De Luca pulling the trigger.
With the last kick of the game, Franco Brienza unleashed a sudden blockbuster from 20 metres that flew into the near top corner past a helpless Marco Amelia. It was a stunner at the Stadio Azzurri d'Italia and could well end Clarence Seedorf's Milan reign.