Newcastle marks return with scoreless draw vs. Milan in Champions League opener
MILAN (AP) — Newcastle marked its return to Europe’s elite with a 0-0 draw at AC Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday, despite being completely dominated at San Siro.
A combination of good saves by Newcastle goalkeeper Nick Pope and wayward finishing by Milan saw the visitors pick up a point in the club's first Champions League match in 20 years.
“Hopefully we can grow from this into the tournament,” Newcastle coach Eddie Howe said. “I praise the players for their defensive qualities that they showed today. We know we can do better with the ball but hopefully that will come.
“I thought (Pope) was outstanding today … he was a huge part of our success last year and no doubt he’ll be vitally important to us again this year.”
Milan, which reached the semifinals last season, should have put the match to bed in the first half and the seven-time champion will perhaps rue its missed opportunities, with Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund also in Group F.
“We completely controlled the match, but we didn’t manage to finish off chances that were rather simple,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said. “I’m disappointed for the lads because they gave their all and then some. ... I’m disappointed not to have won the first group match because it will be a tough group.”
Milan had 25 attempts on goal to just six for Newcastle but the English side almost snatched a win at the end. Substitute Marco Sportiello pulled off his only save off the match to fingertip Sean Longstaff's effort over the bar.
“That would have been an unbelievable ending,” Howe said.
The match marked the return of Sando Tonali to San Siro after he moved to Newcastle from Milan in the offseason. The midfielder was welcomed back by loud cheers as he came out for the warmup and the Milan fans also sung his name and later gave him a standing ovation when he was substituted.
The Rossoneri were coming off a humiliating 5-1 loss to city rival Inter Milan at the weekend that put an end to their perfect start to the season.
Newcastle had been absent from European competition for 11 years and from the Champions League since 2002-03 but the visitors did not seem daunted by the occasion.
The English side started brightly but almost came undone following a 10-minute siege of its goal by Milan.
The first to try his luck was Tommaso Pobega from distance. Pope comfortably parried that snapshot but the ball was crossed back in for a header by Samu Chukwueze, which the Newcastle goalkeeper parried at his near post.
The Milan assault continued and Pope had to use various parts of his body to deny Olivier Giroud, Rade Krunić and Théo Hernandez.
The Newcastle goal was almost breached in the 34th minute when Rafael Leão jinked his way into the area before tripping over his own feet when seemingly attempting a backheel finish. Pobega managed to get a shot away but it was cleared off the line by Jacob Murphy.
Christian Pulisic was brought on in the 61st minute along with Tijjani Reijnders, who almost had an immediate impact but his effort was weak and easy for Pope to save.
Alessandro Florenzi whipped in a great cross from the right in the 74th minute but Leão's flying header went just over the bar.
Milan's frustration will be exacerbated by seeing goalkeeper Mike Maignan and midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek go off injured.
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