Mario Balotelli nets penalty as Milan defeat Alessandria in Coppa Italia
Mario Balotelli's penalty gave AC Milan a first-leg lead in their Coppa Italia semifinal against third-tier Alessandria.
The Italy striker scored two minutes before half-time to nudge Milan towards a potential final against city rivals Inter -- who face Juventus in the other semifinal, with the first leg on Wednesday.
Balotelli was unable to convert Mattia De Sciglio's early cross and Alessio Romagnoli'a header was saved by Gianmarco Vannucchi.
Balotelli shot wide and Alessandria's Michele Marconi was also off target from distance while Massimo Loviso fired a free kick into the wall.
Luiz Adriano had a shot blocked by Santiago Morero and was then unable to reach Keisuke Honda's through-ball, while Vannuchi denied Balotelli and Andrea Poli.
Balotelli volleyed Honda's pass over but opened the scoring from the spot after Morero fouled Luca Antonelli and was booked.
Roberto Sabato blocked Honda's shot from Balotelli's cut-back before Alessandria began to push for an equaliser. Manuel Fischnaller's volley was blocked by Christian Zapata while Riccardo Bocalon and Gianluca Nicco were both unable to find the target.
Milan substitute M'Baye Niang almost made an immediate impact but could not convert Honda's superb cross.
Poli had a goal disallowed after Niang strayed offside and Vannuchi twice saved from the Frenchman, the second time with the help of a post.
Adriano and Simone Branca went close for their respective teams in stoppage time but Balotelli's strike separated the sides ahead of Feb. 29's second leg.