DIEGO COSTA popped up with a late winner as Atletico Madrid established the upper hand in their Champions League last-16 tie with AC Milan.
Milan bossed the first leg at the San Siro for long spells but ultimately the class of the Primera Division title challengers came to the fore as Costa capitalised on Ignazio Abate’s poor attempted clearance from a corner to nod home a priceless away goal in the 83rd minute.
For much of the contest it seemed Clarence Seedorf ’s unrivalled Champions League pedigree might well guide Milan to a valuable win ahead of the return leg at the Vicente Calderon on March 11, but the Dutchman – four times a winner of this competition as a player – will have come away frustrated after seeing his charges slip to a damaging 1-0 defeat.
The outcome might have been different had Milan not come up against the formidable presence of Thibaut Courtois in the Atletico goal, the giant Belgium international producing two brilliant saves in the first half to keep out first Kaka and then Andrea Poli.
Although much of the first half would belong to the hosts, it was Simeone’s men who threatened first, launching an attack straight from the kick-off and forcing the home defence into a hurried clearance from inside their own box with barely 20 seconds on the clock.
Milan quickly settled to their task though and with a quarter of an hour played forced Courtois into action for the first time, the highlyrated 21-year-old keeping out Kaka with a brilliant save, the slightest touch with the tips of his fingers redirecting the ball away from the topleft corner and out of play via a glance off the crossbar.
Yet the Chelsea loanee managed an even better stop two minutes later, somehow tipping the ball onto the post from Poli’s free header.
The game tightened up in the second period, although Kaka should perhaps have done better with a shot which was dragged wide of the upright just before the hour.
Raul Garcia stung the palms of Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati in the 75th minute as Atletico began to look a little more menacing going forward.
The game’s decisive moment arrived with seven minutes left and is one that Abate will want to forget as it was his attempted header from Gabi’s corner that span into the air and back towards his own goal. Costa had plenty to do as he back-pedalled to get under the ball before leaping to nod in at the far stick – where a defender on the line should have been stationed.