Donnarumma was the hero | Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images
There is a reason why we all love football. It’s a special game that coughs up some spectacular moments of drama. But after Thursday night’s Europa League play-off between Rio Ave and AC Milan, we might as well retire the sport.
Nothing will top this.
AC Milan progress to the group stage of the Europa League after a remarkable penalty shootout featuring 24 spot-kicks against Portuguese opponents Rio Ave. #bbcfootball pic.twitter.com/sZ36KlGp5h
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) October 2, 2020
After a fairly dismal first half, nobody on the face of the planet could have predicted we’d be about to witness the maddest game….probably ever. So, we’ll forget the opening 45 even happened.
Just five minutes after the restart, and the visitors took the lead. Good. Something interesting is actually happening. Fast forward to the 72nd minute and the excitement starts to build; Francisco Geraldes’ stunning volley levels matters.
Here we go then, extra-time. Less than a minute on the clock and Gelson puts the hosts in front. Ooooh, we’ve got a game on our hands now. Milan without European football this season? That’d be a travesty.
Good thing they equalised then, in the 122nd minute. Yes, you read that right, Toni Borevković was penalised for handball in the penalty area, earned a second yellow card and was sent off. It really was one of the most bizarre decisions from a central defender you’re likely to see. Stupid, in fact.
Hakan Çalhanoğlu buried his penalty to take the tie to spot-kicks. Can it get any more dramatic? Well, the sane people of this world would say no, but this match didn’t fit inside the parameters of what is considered ‘normal’.
The Turk saved his side’s bacon | Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images
So, here we go: penalties.
But before we delve into the single greatest shootout of all time, we need to address the mise en scene.
Portugal, for all its beautiful coastline and decorative towns, is susceptible to the odd shower. It is very much a case of when it rains, it pours. Goodness me, was it pouring down or what? Rio Ave’s home, Estádio dos Arcos, is fairly new, but they went down the interesting route of putting no stands behind the goals. Just one of those things, I guess.
So instead, to lift the spirits of the players, they let them park their cars behind the goal. It looked like that, anyway.
The match is not over until it’s over! ? #UEL ?⚫️ @acmilan pic.twitter.com/puoNbQlTcp
— Gianluigi Donnarumma (@gigiodonna1) October 1, 2020
Heading into the spot-kicks, tired (and very cold) legs were probably going to mess up a few times, right? Think again. 14 perfect penalties came and went. Genuinely, they were all spot on. Pun absolutely intended.
Spare a thought for Gianluigi Donnarumma, though. Filipe Augusto Carvalho Souza, with the weight of pressure weighing heavy on his shoulders, stepped up to take the tenth penalty, knowing a miss would dump his side out of the competition.
He did a Panenka. A f***ing Panenka. The cheek. The audacity. The execution, above all.
Who was going to miss first? It was seemingly heading towards one save or failed attempt was going to be pounced upon. 18-year-old Lorenzo Colombo looked like being the villain. A quite horrendous penalty flew MILES over the bar, with Milan on the brink of exiting the competition.
Um orgulho gigante!
Perdoem-nos, hoje não conseguimos dizer mais nada.
Obrigado pelo apoio rioavistas, e Portugal! ??#UEL #RAFC #RAFCACM #rioavefc #LigaEuropa pic.twitter.com/XKTH9YMaai
— Rio Ave FC (@RioAve_FC) October 1, 2020
Nélson Monte had the chance to win the tie. His low penalty to the goalkeeper’s right looked perfect. Donnarumma dived correctly, but he couldn’t reach it. Kissing the inside of the post, it’s about to nestle into the net. It bounces across the line, but hits the other post and away to safety.
No. Bloody. Way.
What next? Well, two more converted penalties – one of which Donnarumma over-jumped for and could only parry into his own net (yes, more drama) – meant the goalkeepers were up next.
The Italian steps up for his club and his rubbish nonchalant effort goes over the bar. Oh no. Paweł Kieszek has the chance to win it for Rio Ave, and he absolutely skies is. Oh, no. What is this madness?
???? penalty shoot-out = ???????
AC Milan = through to group stage in dramatic fashion #UEL https://t.co/RD5Qz0utdn
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) October 1, 2020
It’s so wet and so cold that players are stood on the halfway line wrapped up in towels. They’re cheering their teammates on, but in the back of their minds they just want to go inside and get warm. Sadly for them, Ismael Bennacer and Geraldes both miss their efforts. You can’t write this level of entertainment. Monty Python would be proud.
OK. Right. Surely now.
Simon Kjær scores. Boom, there it is, penalty number 23 of the night. Come on Aderlan Leandro de Jesus Santos (breathe), it’s on you now mate. Miss, and you’re out.
Donnarumma, however, saves the day. Standing his ground with a few shimmies either way, he puts the Brazilian off, flings himself to the right and makes the save. It’s hard to fully comprehend what just took place. Mah gawd.
A night best left behind us but we’re through to the #UEL ??
Una notte difficile ma abbiamo passato il turno ??#RioAveMilan 2-2* (8-9) #SempreMilan#UEL pic.twitter.com/vkdIiSHe4S
— AC Milan (@acmilan) October 1, 2020
Honestly, the above isn’t made up. It actually happened. The GOAT penalty shootout? You betcha.
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