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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Nicky Bandini

Giroud goes in goal, shuts his eyes and saves the day for table-topping Milan

Olivier Giroud stops Genoa's George Puscas in unusual fashion to secure Milan’s 1-0 victory with a performance that sent social media into meltdown.
Olivier Giroud stops Genoa's George Puscas in unusual fashion to secure Milan’s 1-0 victory with a performance that sent fans and social media into meltdown. Photograph: Daniele Mascolo/Reuters

It was past 4pm on Sunday when Milan announced that fans could print Olivier Giroud’s name and number on to their home goalkeeper jersey and by the end of the night they had sold out of every size. Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic was posting on Instagram that “I want this shirt”, teasing his former teammate that it’s “Never too late to find your real position”.

Giroud played in goal for the final seven minutes of Milan’s game away to Genoa on Saturday night, after Mike Maignan was sent off in injury time. The Rossoneri, 1-0 up, had used their final substitution moments before, the 17-year-old defender Davide Bartesaghi replacing Luka Jovic in a swap designed to take time off the clock. Then Maignan leapt knee-first into the neck of Caleb Ekuban while contesting a high ball outside the box.

The Genoa president, Alberto Zangrillo, decried it afterwards as “Un’entrata assassina”, a murderous, lethal challenge, reminding his audience that: “I say this as a doctor.” Maignan defended himself on Instagram, saying he had taken a gamble – which he acknowledged might have been a bad one – leaping for the header. He added: “I hope you never have to experience what I have been accused of.”

Emotional reactions were understandable. Newly promoted Genoa had come close to a draw, battling to keep the game scoreless right up to the 87th minute, when Christian Pulisic tamed a cross from fellow American Yunus Musah and swivelled to hook home a match-winning goal. A lengthy VAR review followed as officials checked for a potential handball.

Replays appeared to show Pulisic bring the ball up from his boot on to the juncture of his chest and right arm, using the upper part of that limb to control before bringing it down to shoot. Surprisingly, the referee, Marco Piccinini, was not sent to the monitor to take a look.

The goal stood, and the fourth official signalled for seven minutes of added time. We were into the last of those when Maignan made his ill-advised leap into Ekuban. Pulisic volunteered to go in goal but Stefano Pioli overruled. “I said Oli [Giroud] might be better because he’s a little bit taller,” explained the Milan manager afterwards.

Giroud’s 6ft 4in frame stayed rooted to the line as Albert Gudmundsson drilled the ensuring free-kick underneath the Milan wall. His shot was destined for the back of the net until a deflection off Fikayo Tomori’s boot carried it on to the crossbar. The Englishman kept his wits about him to head Ekuban’s follow-up behind too.

Chaos continued. Genoa’s keeper, Josep Martínez, came up for the corner, won the second ball on the edge of the box, appealed unsuccessfully for a foul against him by Rafael Leão, leapt to his feet and then got sent off for a second bookable offence as he lunged late into Musah. He had received a first yellow card for time-wasting moments before Pulisic’s goal.

Genoa had not used all their substitutions, meaning they could at least send on Nicola Leali to replace him. Still, this was the first time in 31 years that both teams’ starting goalies had been sent off in a Serie A game.

Even now, the drama was not finished. In the 104th minute, Genoa broke forward one last time, George Puscas feeding Gudmundsson who kept the ball moving to Ekuban. He sent it over the Milan defence with a delightful backheel flick and suddenly there was Puscas again, beating Davide Calabria for position and bearing down on goal.

Giroud rushed out to meet him, closing his eyes but throwing his body determinedly forwards. A blind right-armed swat caught enough of the ball to take it away from Puscas. As another forward raced in for the rebound, Giroud opened his eyes and leapt backward to smother the loose ball.

Milan’s in-house commentator was already adapting a terrace chant – “Siam venuti quassù per vedere segnare Giroud” – We came here to see Giroud score – to a version that celebrated him making saves instead. As the final whistle went, sealing Milan’s 1-0 win, social media was awash with fantasy managers demanding to know whether they would get extra points for his clean sheet.

Replica Olivier Giroud goalkeeper shirts sold out in every size within a few hours of going on sale on Sunday.
Replica Olivier Giroud goalkeeper shirts sold out in every size within a few hours of going on sale on Sunday. Photograph: Daniele Mascolo/Reuters

The club website was updated the following day to include Giroud among Milan’s goalkeepers – prompting the run on his new jersey. Of course, there had not been one ready for him at the Marassi on Saturday night. Giroud wore Maignan’s No 19 for his brief stint between the sticks, and almost gave it away at full time – failing in an attempt to chuck it over the barrier to supporters before reconsidering and deciding it belonged in a frame at home.

Speaking to the broadcaster Dazn, Giroud confirmed Pioli’s account of how the key decision was made. “I think I was the tallest, so I went in goal. I liked going in goal as a kid though. It was an enormous emotion when I made the save, almost like scoring a goal … I thought I needed to come out for that ball, so I tried to be brave and I went for it. I never imagined it would be this sort of emotion, but it was really important to make that stop.”

Lecce 1-1 Sassuolo, Empoli 0-0 Udinese, Genoa 0-1 Milan, Juventus 2-0 Torino, Inter 2-2 Bologna, Napoli 1-3 Fiorentina, Cagliari 1-4 Roma, Lazio 3-2 Atalanta, Frosinone 2-1 Verona, Monza 3-0 Salernitana

The win, coming just a few hours after Inter had drawn with Bologna, allowed Milan to take sole possession of first place heading into the international break. Hardly a moment to get carried away, after eight games, but another encouraging step for a team that only scraped into the top four thanks to Juventus’s points deduction last season, and which retooled its midfield and attack following the sale of Sandro Tonali.

Most impressive has been the tightening of the defence. Since a bruising 5-1 defeat in the derby last month, Milan have conceded just once in six games, a run that includes meetings with Newcastle, Lazio and Borussia Dortmund. There will be a nervous wait now to see how long Maignan is suspended. At least Giroud, if he has to fill in again, will have a shirt ready.

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 AC Milan 8 8 21
2 Inter Milan 8 16 19
3 Juventus 8 8 17
4 Fiorentina 8 7 17
5 Napoli 8 8 14
6 Atalanta 8 5 13
7 Monza 8 1 12
8 Frosinone 8 0 12
9 Lecce 8 -1 12
10 Roma 8 7 11
11 Bologna 8 2 11
12 Sassuolo 8 -2 10
13 Lazio 8 -2 10
14 Torino 8 -3 9
15 Genoa 8 -2 8
16 Verona 8 -3 8
17 Udinese 8 -8 5
18 Empoli 8 -15 4
19 Salernitana 8 -13 3
20 Cagliari 8 -13 2
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