Milan breathe a 'sigh of relief'
AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri admitted there was a collective “sigh of relief” as the club progressed to the knock-out rounds of the Champions League.
The Italians survived Group H after securing second place with a 0-0 draw against Ajax.
Both teams entered the match with the chance to qualify alongside leaders Barcelona, but despite the first-half dismissal of Riccardo Montolivo, Milan kept a much-needed clean sheet.
"It was a long sigh of relief because this was an important achievement and it wasn't easy to play against Ajax with 10 men,” Allegri told Sky Sport Italia.
"The lads were very organised and only ran risks on a few crosses into the box, while Christian Abbiati did well on his saves.
“Mario Balotelli took the team upon his shoulders, earned free-kicks and held the ball up, so he was crucial."
Allegri also believed the dismissal of Montolivo was harsh, portraying his captain as “not a nasty player”.
"Montolivo's was a foul, but certainly not nasty, as he is not a nasty player,” Allegri said. “The referee made this decision on the suggestion of the assistant and it's a shame we had to play for over an hour with 10 men.
"From the touchline I couldn't see it. The replays show it was a hard foul, but not nasty. The lads didn't allow Ajax to get past them, didn’t allow spaces and I think we had a couple of dubious offsides against us too.
"It was tougher to go on the counter in the second half, as the more time went on, the more we could sense the finish line.
"Ah well, that's the way it went and we all lost a few kilos suffering on the touchline."
Meanwhile, Ajax coach Frank de Boer said it was a ‘disgrace’ that Milan were able to progress through ‘anti-football’.
"UEFA always talks about respect, but if even the ballboys don't provide us the balls if we're in a hurry,” De Boer told NOS. “They stalled the match for 20 minutes, but there was only five minutes extra-time. It's a disgrace.
"It was rather difficult after the red card. We had to search how to play. We needed a bit of luck, but we didn't get it. We had some chances, but unfortunately anti-football won today.
"Milan played their game with 10 men with their back against their own box. I'm proud of the boys and how they fought. It just felt like we played in a theatre tonight, what with all these tricks of Milan's.
"It's experienced by Milan, but the ref allowed it. The fact that he gave red had nothing to do with it. A red card is a red card. [Mario] Balotelli should have gotten red as well after he kicked Daley Blind. He didn't have any intention to play the ball.
"At these moments, the ref let the game slip out of his hands. The Milan goalkeeper took a minute for every goal kick. We were twice as good as Milan. It's something positive, but at this point it's disappointing."