Mario Balotelli rescued AC Milan with a disputed penalty in the 94th minute of their Champions League clash at Ajax on Tuesday, leaving the hosts to rue their failure to close it out after taking a 90th-minute lead.
Ajax went ahead through Stefano Denswil’s header, but Italy striker Balotelli was given the benefit of a generous decision from Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson when he tussled with the hosts’ Mike van der Hoorn deep into stoppage-time.
The substitute defender looked more the victim than the aggressor as the pair tangled in the area, but the decision went the Italian’s way and he stepped up to convert from the spot.
“When you score the first goal of the game in the 90th minute, it’s logical you have to go on and win the match. I find it crazy we ended up drawing,” Ajax captain Siem de Jong told Dutch radio after the Group H match at the Amsterdam Arena. “But over the whole game a 1-1 draw was probably the right result.”
Ajax manager Frank de Boer had said that if Ajax were to stand any chance of finishing in the top two in a group that also includes Barcelona, they would need to beat Milan.
They looked well on their way when Denswil rose unchallenged to head home Lasse Schone’s corner right at the death in a rare effort on goal from the hosts. Howeve, a dream result was snatched away when Balotelli and Van der Hoorn locked arms in stoppage-time and De Boer was in no doubt where he felt the blame lay.
“It looked to me that Balotelli was practicing judo, I saw that as an ippon,” he told reporters sarcastically. “He tugged him over with two hands. It was no penalty.”
However, De Boer did say that Denswil had got away with an earlier incident in the 69th minute when he clearly handled in the penalty area, but it was not spotted by the match officials.
“The ref would have been justified in awarding a penalty then, but not for the incident at the end of the game,” the Ajax coach added.
The result leaves Milan second in Group H on four points, two behind leaders Barcelona who maintained their perfect start with a 1-0 win at Celtic.
Ajax are third, having picked up their first point of the campaign after losing 4-0 to Barcelona on the opening matchday.
Milan did not have a single effort on goal in the first half as they sat back behind the ball and comfortably dealt with Ajax’s efforts to break through their lines.
The Italians seemed content with a point despite the relative inexperience of their hosts.
Home goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was called into action for the first time to keep out Riccardo Montolivo’s effort from a Kevin Constant cross in the 49th minute.
Then Balotelli, who had been largely anonymous in the first half, but sprung to life after the break, came close with a looping shot just after the hour mark that forced the Ajax goalie to tip the ball onto the crossbar.
Cillessen, playing his first Champions League game, made another good stop five minutes from the end as Balotelli was allowed time to turn and shoot in the penalty area as the game suddenly burst into life.
“In the second half, Ajax could not keep up the same level of performance. We started to play better and we should have won the game,” Milan manager Massimiliano Allgeri said.