PSV Eindhoven recovered from conceding an early goal to claim a 1-1 draw with AC Milan and keep their chances alive of making the Champions League group phase when the two teams meet again next week in Italy. It was just rewards too for the Dutch side after an enthralling first-leg of the playoff at the Philips Arena to decide which side will progress and guarantee a financial windfall in Europe’s main event.
Phillip Cocu’s young side were full of energy and no little quality throughout the 90 minutes, but their naivety also showed to their cost. And the experienced nous of Milan combined with the exciting duo of Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy were ready to take advantage. El Shaarawy put the visitors ahead after 15 minutes as he headed in following some poor defensive work by PSV. Both sides clattered the woodwork, with PSV going close on a number of occasions in the first half. A breakthrough was not forthcoming, though, until striker Tim Matavz capitalized on an error from Christian Abbiati to put a header into the net from close range.
PSV, with the advantage of their season already being under way, pushed in search of a lead to take to Milan but Karim Rekik headed a glaring chance wide. That miss ensured Milan leave the happier of the two sides and in control of the tie, but in full knowledge that they were given a real test in the Netherlands and still have plenty of work to do to secure their place in the Champions League proper.
After winning all five of their competitive matches coming in, PSV started full of confidence. They could have been in front inside the first minute too as Matavz’s shot was diverted just wide of the post by Adam Maher.
There was plenty to admire about the Eredivisie leader’s game, but from early on they also showed a propensity for self-destruction. A mix-up between defender and goalkeeper resulted in Jeroen Zoet having to recover and save from El Shaarawy.
And on 15 minutes, further inexperience at the back proved costly. Memphis Depay should have ensured that Ignzaio Abate couldn’t get possession down the right, but instead he produced a limp tackle that left him stranded as the Milan full-back swung in a cross that found El Shaarawy, left completely free by the PSV defense, to head home from eight yards.
PSV’s hole could have been almost immediately deepened. Zoet cleared the ball straight to Kevin-Prince Boateng, who laid it off to Balotelli to curl a fine strike from 25 yards that forced the Dutch keeper into a stunning save to tip it onto the crossbar and bring about immediate redemption.
To their credit, the errors did not deter the Dutch side’s young guns. They continued to try and play at a higher tempo and press Milan’s more seasoned lineup. The home side had plenty of joy too. Maher was particularly impressive and seemingly did everything but score in the opening 45 minutes. After testing Abbiati with a strong effort from distance and then a sweetly struck volley that stung the Milan goalkeeper’s palms, the midfield starlet then smashed a fearsome effort against the crossbar.
Still, despite having just one shot on target in the opening period, it was the Italian side that went in in front. It appeared that PSV’s frenetic pace might be taking its toll at the start of the second-half as Milan enjoyed their best spell of the contest.
Twice some fine link-up play between Milan’s front two almost provided dividends, but El Shaaraway was just unable to take advantage. Yet, just as Milan looked poised to take a potentially decisive 2-0 lead, PSV got back on level terms.
There appeared little on when defender Jeffrey Bruma unleashed an effort from fully 35 yards, but the dipping swerving shot bounced right in front of Abbiati, who couldn’t deal with it and instead merely helped it up for Matavz to head into the corner.
There were chances for both sides to win late on. The best undoubtedly fell to Rekik, who somehow contrived to head wide from six yards, while defender Philippe Mexes and substitute Andrea Poli had openings at the other end.