Milan survive Tuscan terror to secure third place finish

As the clock ticked past 84 minutes in Siena, life was not looking so sweet for Milan, who faced the unthinkable - missing out on Champions League football next season. 

Massimiliano Allegri had spent all week dodging questions about his future, even after Silvio Berlusconi had let it slip that his coach would be the new AS Roma boss, but now he had more pressing business to attend to.

A goal down and with both sides down to ten men, there seemed little way back into the match. The Rossoneri had looked as lifeless and drained as Adriano Galliani’s face as the club’s vice president contemplated a fate he could never have envisaged: asking Mario Balotelli to play in the Europa League.

Meanwhile, across the country on the Adriatic coast, Fiorentina had done all they could to claw back Milan’s two-point advantage. The Viola were 5-1 up against Pescara - like Siena, already relegated -yet the nerves of Vincenzo Montella’s men were still jangling.

The Tuscan side knew they were six minutes plus stoppage time from celebrating third place and a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2009/10.

However, this is Serie A - the home of controversy - so nothing could be taken for granted. Anyone who has followed Italian football would understand that six minutes of normal time is a whole match in itself, and there was time for a final act that would break Florentine hearts.

Somehow, in the remaining minutes, Milan contrived to score twice and all was suddenly well again in the house of Berlusconi. The owner had foregone his now famous pre-match motivational speech to the team, such was his apparent belief that all would turn out alright on the night.

It did thanks to what can only be described (although not be Galliani and friends) as a soft penalty, awarded for a tug on Balotelli’s shirt. The striker went sprawling to the ground, which was the cue for the Rossoneri players to point to the spot. The referee duly followed suit.

The groans of disbelief could be heard all the way from the Stadio Adriatico. Balotelli, who has never missed a penalty in his professional career, tucked away the equaliser in his trademark stop-and-start style, sending goalkeeper Gianluca Pegolo the wrong way.

There was no time for Mario to celebrate, as the rest of the Milan players raced back to the centre circle to set in motion an incredible turn of events.

A hopeful free-kick into the area looked to have come to nothing, but Philippe Mexes reacted quickly to score from close range at the second attempt. It was the first league goal from a Milan defender all season, but what a priceless one it was. There was no way Siena were coming back from this double blow.

The full-time whistle sparked the sort of celebrations that had usually been the preserve of Milan triumphs in the Champions League, not the prospect of an early pre-season return and the hope of gaining a favourable draw in August.

Galliani admitted he had been to hell and back, but the most relaxed man seemed to be Allegri, who knew that he had achieved the minimum Berlusconi had demanded of him.

He will now meet with the club on Wednesday in a position of renewed power, but the feeling is that the pragmatic Tuscan will decide to take up Roma’s offer of a three-year contract worth €2.5m a year. Tellingly, he will also be given a free rein to get on with coaching the team in the manner of his choosing with little or no interference from above.

That alone may be too good to turn down, and although Rome will be no life in the sun, at least for now Allegri will escape some of the negative headlines that have surrounded Milan lately.

Allegri may still end up competing in the Europa League if Roma overcome Lazio in the Italian Cup final, which has become a play-off for the final spot in Europe’s secondary competition. Should the make it, Roma would join Fiorentina and Udinese, who kept Lazio out thanks to a 5-2 rout of Inter at the San Siro.

On any other day, that result for Francesco Guidolin’s side would have been headline news, but that was never going to be the case after the events in Siena had taken Milan right to the edge of disaster.