Champions League

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AC Milan escapes rough PSV scare

Champions League: Review of Milan's 1-1 draw vs. PSV.
Champions League: Review of Milan's 1-1 draw vs. PSV.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.


They are hard lessons to learn for a young team in Europe. An astonishingly youthful PSV Eindhoven squad, with eight starters aged between 18 and 22, dazzled venerable AC Milan, dicing them apart for the bulk of the game but had to settle for a 1-1 draw at home in their UEFA Champions League playoff round first leg on Tuesday.

Led by midfield magicians Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Maher – the centerpieces of a team rebuilt after it was ravaged during the transfer window -- PSV asserted themselves on the seven-time European champions, pressing high and hard and hogging the ball.

Following the example of the audacious winger Memphis Depay, the Dutchmen were unabashed about ramming their shots at Christian Abbiati’s goal from distance all night. But for all their exuberance going forward, their inexperience was just as evident in the back. The defensive line -- aged 18, 21, 19 and 19 -- let Ignazio Abate worm his way through its left side in the 15th minute and then misplaced Stephan El Shaarawy. The Italian was wide-open to head in the go-ahead goal.

El Shaarawy found himself unmarked several times early in the second half as well but could not convert. And so it was in the lone and brief spell of Milan dominance that PSV equalized. In the 61st minute, center back Jeffrey Bruma -- newly acquired from Chelsea -- lashed a swerving and dipping shot at Abbiati. The Italian goalkeeper mustered only a block of the hurtling ball, deflecting it right into the path of Tim Matavz, who simply nodded it into the net.

Yet for all their chances and the promising late looks -- a clear shot for Florian Jozefzoon; a wide-open header for Karim Rekik -- and for all the difficulties they presented their much more seasoned opponents, PSV walked away from the game having surrendered to Milan that precious away goal. Their tally ensures that if the return game in Italy next week ends in a 0-0 tie, it will have perhaps been the less deserving of these two teams that advances into the Champions League group stage.

If that proves to be the case, this upstart PSV bunch will have nevertheless left a lasting impression. And we’ll be left safe in the knowledge that they’ll be back strengthened, matured and famished for more next year. To the delight of all who believe soccer is at its best when played joyfully and unfettered.


Review the best images from the Champions League's playoff round.

Elsewhere, Real Sociedad shocked Lyon at the Stade de Gerland behind two brilliant goals, one scored by a childhood Lyon fan. Antoine Griezmann netted the winner in style when he collected a cross from Carlos Vela wide left, turned at the edge of the area, and pounded a bicycle kick past a helpless Anthony Lopes in the net. Haris Seferovic put the game out of reach with an equally spectacular goal, a long-range left-footed half volley that caught Lopes unaware as it sizzled into the top of his net.

Lyon will also miss Milan Bisevic for the return leg after he was sent off for two yellows and now have all to do next week at the Anoeta.

Zenit made easy work of Portuguese minnows Pacos de Ferreira on the road, 4-1. Russian star Roman Shirokov had a hat trick while the luckless Portuguese keeper Matias Degra contributed an own goal.


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Zenit made easy work of Portuguese minnows Pacos de Ferreira on the road, 4-1. Russian star Roman Shirokov had a hat trick while the luckless Portuguese keeper Matias Degra contributed an own goal.

Viktoria Plzen routed Maribor 3-1 at home behind Marian Cisovsky and Vladmir Darida’s goals. Michal Duris added a key insurance goal as Plzen now head to Slovenia next week.

The Champions League playoff round continues on Wednesday as Arsenal travels to Fenerbahce in the marquee matchup of the afternoon (live, FOX Sports 1, 2 p.m. ET)

FOX Soccer's Jamie Trecker contributed to this report.

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