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UEFA Champions League 2023: Sparkling Rafeael Leao hailed by Milan coach Pioli

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Stefano Pioli said that Rafael Leao could be a world-beater after the inconsistent Portugal winger outshone Kylian Mbappe in AC Milan’s 2-1 Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain.

Leao drew Milan level with an acrobatic overhead kick and terrorised the PSG defence every time he had the ball while France star Mbappe struggled to get into a thrilling game at the San Siro.

ALSO READ: Fullkrug, Brandt steer Dortmund to back-to-back wins over Newcastle in Champions League

Tuesday’s stellar performance came in stark contrast to recent underwhelming displays and helped reignite Milan’s hopes of making it out of Group F.

He put his finger to his lips as a gesture of defiance against criticism of his efforts in a poor run of form for him and the team as a whole which has left Milan six points behind Serie A leaders Inter Milan.

“Rafa needs to have another look at his display tonight because how he performs is only down to him,” Pioli told reporters.

“A lot of what he has was given to him by his parents with the talent he has, and he showed tonight that he has a huge amount of quality.

“If we all play with that same intensity we can have a lot of success.”

Milan started the day bottom of the group with a zero in the goals scored column but is now right back in contention for the last 16 as it trails second-placed PSG by a single point.

AC Milan’s Olivier Giroud and AC Milan’s Rafael Leao, right, greet each other after the Champions League group F match between AC Milan and Paris Saint Germain at the San Siro stadium in Milan

AC Milan’s Olivier Giroud and AC Milan’s Rafael Leao, right, greet each other after the Champions League group F match between AC Milan and Paris Saint Germain at the San Siro stadium in Milan
| Photo Credit:
Antonio Calanni/ AP

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AC Milan’s Olivier Giroud and AC Milan’s Rafael Leao, right, greet each other after the Champions League group F match between AC Milan and Paris Saint Germain at the San Siro stadium in Milan
| Photo Credit:
Antonio Calanni/ AP

“We get unconditional support from the fans even if things are difficult in the league,” said Olivier Giroud, who headed Milan’s winner early in the second half.

“This win gets the group going again… it does us a lot of good.”

Pioli’s players looked comfortable in the biggest match of their season and fully deserved their win, bouncing back from a dismal home defeat by Udinese at the weekend.

“This was the sort of reaction that I expected because I know my players, I know this group. They performed so well, with fantastic attitude,” added Pioli.

“We did what we needed to do… now we need to try to become more consistent. Tonight’s win gives us a better chance and the match with Dortmund will be decisive.”

More tennis than football

Luis Enrique lamented a “lack of control” on the part of his players, likening the contest more to a tennis match than a game of football.

“We had chances, we attacked, maybe we helped make the match be crazy, we should have played a football match, not a tennis match,” he said.

PSG’s head coach Luis Enrique shouts out instructions from the side line during the Champions League, Group F match between AC Milan and PSG, at the San Siro stadium in Milan.

PSG’s head coach Luis Enrique shouts out instructions from the side line during the Champions League, Group F match between AC Milan and PSG, at the San Siro stadium in Milan.
| Photo Credit:
Luca Bruno/ AP

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PSG’s head coach Luis Enrique shouts out instructions from the side line during the Champions League, Group F match between AC Milan and PSG, at the San Siro stadium in Milan.
| Photo Credit:
Luca Bruno/ AP

“This is the Champions League, the highest level. Sometimes you can be in front and other times it’s the other team. Either team could have won tonight.”

PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was met with an extremely hostile reception from Milan fans who fully took the chance to barrack their former idol with insulting chants and fake dollar bills depicting him as a mercenary for leaving for PSG as a free agent.

However he didn’t seem fazed by the wave of abuse and pulled off a great late save from Noah Okafor to keep PSG in the game right until the last.

“He has experience and heart, we knew what kind of match this would be,” added Luis Enrique.

“Football is passion, we have a great level in the squad, great players, and he had a good game.”

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