Following the departure of some of its top players recently, some of AC Milan’s fans in Italy held a “mock funeral” for their team.
Reports of the team’s demise might have been premature.
Underdogs on paper and without its full roster, AC Milan gave its faithful a reason for optimism by beating Chelsea 1-0 in front of a crowd of 57,748 on Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium in an exhibition match as part of the Herbalife World Football Challenge.
The crowd was the second-largest to watch a soccer game at Sun Life Stadium behind the 70,080 that came to watch Mexico’s Chivas play Barcelona last summer. The crowd was also the largest to attend any of Chelsea’s three matches in the series that began July 18 in Seattle.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
The majority of the audience arrived early, clad in Chelsea blue and waving flags of the English Premier League powerhouse throughout the match.
But the loudest cheer came from AC Milan’s supporters in the 68th minute when midfielder Urby Emanuelson booted the ball with his left foot into the back of the net for the match’s lone goal.
“It always feels good to score,” Emanuelson said. “[Saturday night] was a good test for us. We played well, and I’m happy that I scored a goal.”
Emanuelson, a 26-year-old Dutch midfielder, was named the Man of the Match after scoring the winning goal in a match for the second time last week. Emanuelson also scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory Tuesday against Germany’s Schalke 04.
Emanuelson is one of Milan’s younger players trying to earn a larger role on the squad once its league play begins in late August.
“For our team, it’s good because a lot of players went to other clubs,” Emanuelson said. “For us, these games are a chance to perform well and show that we are still a good team.”
Although it was a friendly, the game was a welcome result for Milan, which recently sold off the contracts of Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazilian star Thiago Silva to France’s Paris St.-Germain.
ESPN’s weekly “Off the Ball” soccer column reported that some fans reacted in outrage, holding a mock funeral outside the team’s headquarters with wreaths and candles to mark the “death” of the club.
Milan also played without Robinho, who was unable to travel from his native Brazil to Miami because of a passport issue.
“We’re playing well, and you see the players of the Euro are back, and there’s still a possibility to get some players [on the market] so we can only get stronger,” Emanuelson said.
A well-timed feed downfield from midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng set up the winning goal. Emanuelson broke open with the ball and crossed it to his left to Stephan El Shaarawy, who drew out Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech toward the edge of the box. El Shaarawy quickly returned the ball to Emanuelson on one touch, allowing him to fire a hard shot past the remaining defenders for the score.
“What I’ve seen so far from the club has been good,” Milan coach Massimilano Allegri said. “There’s no immediate solution for the loss of those players, but we have a group of important players that are here to help build the future of this team.”
Milan was able to outshoot Chelsea 16-12 overall and 5-3 in shots on target despite Chelsea controlling possession 60.9 percent to 39.1.
The match had its share of star power, as Chelsea had most of its squad available, including Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Belgian star Eden Hazard, a new addition this season.
German midfielder Marko Marin started the second half and energized Chelsea. Its best chance to take the lead came in the 54th minute when Lampard fired a shot that Milan goalie Marco Amelia denied with a diving stop to his left.
“We got into good positions, but it seemed we were missing the cutting edge on those last 20 yards,” Chelsea coach Roberto Di Matteo said. “We had a lot of good possessions and good combinations.”
Spanish superstar Fernando Torres, who was available for the first time during the club’s four-match American tour, entered the game to a standing ovation in the 59th minute of the match. Three minutes later, Milan star midfielder Antonio Nocerino checked in.
Chelsea finished 1-2-1 during its 11-day American tour, including a 3-2 loss to the Major League Soccer All-Stars on Wednesday.
“You obviously want to get the win,” Di Matteo said. “We’re disappointed with the result, but we’re happier than we felt after Wednesday’s loss.”