MILAN (AP) — The city of Milan was swarming with a sea of celebrating red-and-black fans as AC Milan secured its first Serie A title in 11 years on Sunday with a 3-0 win at Sassuolo.
Thousands of supporters in the team's colors had started gathering in Milan's Piazza del Duomo, in front of the iconic cathedral, even before the Rossoneri clinched its 19th scudetto.
And it was the man who thrives in the big occasions who helped Milan do it, as veteran forward Olivier Giroud scored twice to set his side on the way to the win.
Rafael Leão set up all three first-half goals. The 22-year-old Leão was presented with the Serie A player of the season award after the match.
“I’m a different player now, with more maturity, with more confidence and with the responsibility of making the difference,” Leão said. "That’s what I did today, what was important was to win the scudetto.”
The result meant Milan finished two points ahead of defending champion — and city rival — Inter Milan, which won 3-0 at home to Sampdoria.
The festivities were mirrored at Sassuolo, where there was a joyous pitch invasion at the final whistle, delaying the trophy ceremony.
Milan director Paolo Maldini — who helped the Rossoneri to seven Serie A titles as a player — watched on beaming as the players came out for the presentation. Zlatan Ibrahimović walked out puffing on a cigar.
“This is the most satisfying of my titles," said Ibrahimović, who also helped Milan to the last of its Serie A titles in his first spell at the club. "I still remember when I came back I promised to take Milan back to the top and to win the scudetto. Many didn’t believe and laughed. Instead I am here as a champion now.
“We worked hard, made sacrifices, suffered. And when you can do that, everything is possible. I suffered a lot for this trophy. It’s the most satisfying.”
There was also another pitch invasion after the presentation with thousands of jubilant fans dancing on the field and singing “Pioli's on fire” in tribute to coach Stefano Pioli.
“I’m happy for me, the fans, the players and the whole Milan world, they all deserve this scudetto,” Pioli said. “We always believed in it.
“The players were fantastic from the first match to the last, never losing intensity and never stopping working, We deserved it because we won difficult matches such as the two games against Roma and Lazio, and at Napoli.”
The season-long duel between Milan and Inter for the Italian league came down to the final day and the Rossoneri only needed one point to clinch its first scudetto since the 2010-11 season. It had a two-point lead over Inter and a better head-to-head record, which is the tiebreaker.
And despite it being an away game for Milan, it had the feeling of a home match as thousands had made the trip and the Rossoneri fans far outnumbered the Sassuolo supporters inside the Mapei Stadium, with many more outside. There was a field invasion at the final whistle, delaying the trophy ceremony.
Backed by the vociferous support, Milan had a high intensity from the start and had several chances to take the lead before doing so in the 17th minute.
Leão won the ball back in midfield and raced down the flank before cutting in from the left and rolling the ball across to Giroud, who slotted the ball between the legs of both Sassuolo defender Mert Müldür and goalkeeper Andrea Consigli.
Giroud has a long history of scoring at critical moments. His crucial goals late in the 2019-20 season helped Chelsea qualify for last season’s Champions League, and his six goals in the competition helped the London club win it.
The 35-year-old Giroud has also scored in important matches this season for Milan, including against Inter and Napoli.
Giroud did it again in the 32nd in very similar fashion after turning in another cross from Leão from the left.
It was one-way traffic and Milan all but sealed the match – and the title – four minutes later. This time Leão’s assist came from the right and Franck Kessié swept it in from close range.
Giroud was given a standing ovation when he was substituted in the 72nd minute. Fellow veteran Ibrahimović was brought on and he thought he had scored in what could be his last club match but it was ruled out for offside.
The 40-year-old Ibrahimović has missed large parts of the season through injury.
“First I have to do things to feel good,” he said when asked about his future. “If I manage to remain well then it hasn't been my last match. We'll see what happens.”
Salernitana secured another season of Serie A soccer despite losing 4-0 at Udinese as Cagliari could only draw 0-0 at bottom club Venezia.
Salernitana, which had spent nearly the entire season rooted to the foot of the table, finished one point ahead of 18th-place Cagliari.
It was another miracle from coach Davide Nicola, who has steered several clubs away from relegation and had vowed to walk to Rome if he did so with Salernitanta.
Also, Napoli won 3-0 at Spezia in a match where play was halted for 12 minutes because of crowd trouble.