Milan (Italy), Oct 26 (IANS) Real Betis fended off a furious comeback attempt by AC Milan to win 2-1 in Europa League group-stage action at the San Siro here and earn its first ever victory at that storied stadium.
Spain-based Betis had been struggling in La Liga before coming into this Group F match, which was the first contest between these two clubs since 1977, reports Efe news.
But the visitors came out with an attacking mindset early on, controlling possession and sending the hosts scrambling to plug holes in their defence on Thursday night.
A header by defender Antonio Barragan just missed the mark in the 17th minute, but AC Milan was unable to keep Betis scoreless for much longer.
Argentine midfielder Giovani Lo Celso set up the first goal when he delivered a low cross from the left side to Paraguayan forward Antonio Sanabria, who poked the ball past Milan net minder Pepe Reina at the half-hour mark.
Betis then had chances to add to its lead, but an apparent second goal was waved off for offside. Then Sanabria and Lo Celso squandered clear chances to score.
At the other end of the field, a phenomenal defensive effort by Algerian defender Aissa Mandi with time winding down in the first half prevented Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain from scoring after he had manoeuvred around Betis goalkeeper Pau Lopez.
The visitors remained insistent on attack after the intermission and were rewarded in the 54th minute when Lo Celso scored on an outstanding left-footed strike from outside the area that thrilled the sizable contingent of around 7,000 Betis fans in attendance at San Siro.
But the complexion of the match changed over the final half-hour.
A newly aggressive Milan side made the score 2-1 on a goal by Patrick Cutrone in the 82nd minute and then continued to push forward in search of the equalizer.
The home side’s last chance came and went, however, when defender Marc Batra stymied a scoring opportunity by Samu Castillejo near the penalty spot.
The AC Milan winger vehemently protested the lack of a penalty on the play and his frustration boiled over when he committed a hard foul on Lo Celso and was sent off for a direct red card.