AC Milan boost as Rafael Leao set to return for Champions League semi-final second leg

Rossoneri's key man likely to start as they seek to overturn 2-0 deficit against rivals Inter

AC Milan's Rafael Leao trains on May 15, 2023, on the eve of their Champions League semi-final second leg against Inter. AFP
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AC Milan hope to welcome back Rafael Leao for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against fierce rivals Inter Milan on Tuesday.

Milan were without star man Leao, who was sidelined with a thigh injury, when they lost the "home" leg 2-0 at San Siro last week.

Without his creative spark, they had only three clear-cut chances against Inter, as Sandro Tonali hit the post and Junior Messias and Brahim Diaz fired shots narrowly wide. Veteran striker Olivier Giroud was isolated up front and barely got a touch as Milan missed Leao's devastating pace.

But Milan manager Stefano Pioli said on Monday: “If today’s training goes OK, Leao will start.”

Winger Leao was named Serie A’s most valuable player when Milan won the Serie A title last year. He was also instrumental when they knocked Napoli out in the quarter-finals.

In contrast to Giroud, Inter’s old stagers were in superb form in the first leg, with Edin Dzeko, 37, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 34, scoring the goals for the Nerazzuri.

“How old am I today? I’m 37 but I feel good and that’s what’s important,” said Dzeko. “I feel fresh maybe because I was rested [against Sassuolo] three days ago.

“But the whole team was fired up. It’s not every year you play a Champions League semi-final and especially a derby. We were focused from the first minute to the last and we were rewarded for that.”

The Bosnian forward became the second-oldest scorer in the Champions League last four when he notched the 400th goal of his career. Mkhitaryan moved into seventh on that list.

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Dzeko has been on the scoresheet in all three of his semi-final appearances in the Champions League, having registered in both legs of Roma’s 2018 semi-final loss to Liverpool.

The other semi-final this year is between Dzeko's old club Manchester City and Real Madrid, who drew 1-1 in the first leg in Spain on Tuesday.

“I would like to face City in the final. I hope we do,” Dzeko said. “But we’re not thinking so far ahead because the semi-final is a fundamental match in the career of a player.

“The last time I played in one I lost and so I have bad memories even though I scored in both matches.”

Inter are now on the brink of a return to the final of European football's elite competition for the first time since they won the treble of Serie A, the Italian Cup and the Champions League under Jose Mourinho in 2010.

“We know that tomorrow is going to be one of the most important matches in the century-long history of Inter,” said Nerazzuri manager Simone Inzaghi.

"We know how important this game is for us, for our club, for our fans, so we will need to play our best.

"We’re just one step away from a dream that we believed in from August until today."

Updated: May 16, 2023, 6:54 AM