Ronaldinho inspired AC Milan to victory over Udinese on Friday night, warming them up for the visit of Manchester United in the Champions League on Tuesday with three more points in Serie A.
Although the Brazilian did not put his own name on the scoresheet, he set up all three goals as Milan regained second spot in the table.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored the first after seven minutes and substitute Alexandre Pato added the second five minutes before the break.
Antonio Floro Flores gave Udinese hope with a goal on the stroke of half-time before Huntelaar’s second in the 57th minute restored the home side’s two-goal advantage.
Antonio Di Natale pulled Udinese back into the game in the 86th minute, but they could not find an equaliser.
Milan coach Leonardo left David Beckham on the bench for the second game running, but Alessandro Nesta was back at the heart of the defence after a three-week injury absence.
And it wasn’t long before Pato entered the field too with Amantino Mancini forced off injured after just 13 minutes.
By then, Milan were ahead with a bullet header from Huntelaar, who met Ronaldinho’s cross at the near post in the seventh minute.
Dida was nearly caught out by Gokhan Inler’s shot which he initially fumbled before clasping. Not for the first time, and not for the last either, the Milan goalkeeper did not look too comfortable.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who was watching on from the stands, will certainly have taken note.
He will also have been given a lot to ponder by Ronaldinho, who was pulling the strings in the Milan attack, setting up Pato in the 24th minute, but the linesman’s offside flag was raised before the Milan striker eventually rolled the ball in.
A poor clearance from Dida gave Di Natale a gift in the 27th minute, but the Udinese striker and Serie A top goalscorer failed to take advantage as the Milan defence recovered.
There was no offside flag when another sumptuous delivery from Ronaldinho, straight into the path of Pato, set up the second goal in the 39th minute.
Udinese defender Andrea Coda succeeded partly in putting the Milan number seven off as he prepared to pull the trigger, but the ball fell kindly for Pato, who was left with a simple tap-in.
However, the Rossoneri continued to look susceptible at the back and Floro Flores headed Di Natale’s cross in with the final touch of the first half.
The actual last touch of the half was Dida’s as he carried the ball into his goal rather than making what should not have been too difficult a save.
Fortunately for Milan, they had Ronaldinho, who was the source of their third goal in the 57th minute.
His free-kick was met with an unintentional flick by Massimo Ambrosini and Huntelaar was on hand to fire in his second and Milan’s third from close range.
Gennaro Gattuso missed the chance to wrap the game up in the 75th minute when Ronaldinho’s vision and pass execution picked him out in acres of space, but Samir Handanovic blocked his shot behind for a corner.
From the corner kick, Ronaldinho’s header was cleared off the line by Simone Pepe before he made way for Beckham.
Di Natale’s honesty in not going down denied his side a penalty when he nudged the ball round Dida with 10 minutes remaining, but the Udinese striker was rewarded with a goal his performance deserved in the 86th minute when he beat the offside trap before beating Dida with an elegant shot. (ESPN)
|Shots (on Goal)||11(6)||15(5)|
|Time of Possession||55%||45%|
|Final score||San Paolo|
|Napoli||0 – 0||Inter|
|Final score||Stadio Marc Antonio Bentegodi|
|Chievo||0 – 1||Siena|
|Ferreira Da Silva Reginaldo (75)|
|Final score||Armando Picchi|
|Livorno||0 – 1||Bologna|
|Marco Di Vaio (22)|
|Final score||Stadio Ennio Tardini|
|Parma||0 – 2||Lazio|
|Mauro Matias Zarate (88)|
|Guglielmo Stendardo (68)|
|Final score||Stadio Angelo Massimino|
|Catania||0 – 0||Atalanta|
|Final score||Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino|
|Juventus||3 – 2||Genoa|
|Carvalho de Oliveira Amauri (42)||Marco Rossi (63)|
|Alessandro Del Piero (78)||Marco Rossi (16)|
|Alessandro Del Piero (61)|
|Final score||Stadio San Elia|
|Cagliari||3 – 1||Bari|
|Anderson Nene (29)||Andrea Masiello (52)|
|Daniele Conti (13)|
|Andrea Cossu (53)|
|Final score||Stadio Olimpico|
|AS Roma||4 – 1||Palermo|
|John Arne Riise (83)||Fabrizio Miccoli (80)|
|Matteo Brighi (62)|
|Matteo Brighi (33)|
|Julio Baptista (53)|
|Final score||Stadio Luigi Ferraris|
|Sampdoria||2 – 0||Fiorentina|
|Giampaolo Pazzini (40)|
|Franco Semioli (16)|
|Final score||San Siro|
|AC Milan||3 – 2||Udinese|
|Pato (39)||Antonio Di Natale (87)|
|Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (57)||Antonio Floro Flores (45)|
|Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (7)|
|Champions League: 1st , 2nd , 3rd
Champions League qualifying: 4th
Europa League: 5th , 6th
Relegation: 18th , 19th , 20th