Salzburg 1-1 Milan: Saelemaekers strikes as Rossoneri recover in lively Champions League opener

·3-min read

Milan came from behind to clinch a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Salzburg in their Champions League opener, as Alexis Saelemaekers cancelled out a superb solo goal from Noah Okafor.

Okafor's outstanding strike gave Salzburg the lead midway through an evenly matched first half, only for Saelemaekers to smash home an equaliser shortly before the break on Tuesday.

Stefano Pioli's men failed to build on the Belgium international's effort but almost grabbed a stoppage-time winner through Rafael Leao, who was denied by the frame of the goal.

Having failed to escape the group stages in the Champions League last season, however, the Serie A champions may still be relieved to escape without defeat ahead of meetings with Dinamo Zagreb and Chelsea.

Both sides created openings in an entertaining start, with Nicolas Capaldo heading over the crossbar before Olivier Giroud drilled a poor effort straight at Philipp Kohn from a tight angle.

But Salzburg hit the front through a tremendous goal after 28 minutes, as Okafor collected Fernando's pass before slipping the ball between Pierre Kalulu's legs and finishing neatly beyond Mike Maignan.

Milan drew level five minutes before the break, however, as Leao teed up Saelemaekers to slam a left-footed effort past Kohn from 10 yards out.

Salzburg missed a golden opportunity to regain their lead eight minutes after half-time, with Fernando somehow lifting his effort over the bar from six yards out when meeting Maurits Kjaergaard's cross.

Nicolas Seiwald then tested Maignan from range before the hosts appeared to run out of steam, allowing Sando Tonali to dictate the play for the Rossoneri.

Leao went agonisingly close to snatching the win in the 93rd minute, but saw his long-range effort deflect against the post and away to safety.

What does it mean? Group E looks wide open

With Chelsea succumbing to a dismal 1-0 defeat in Zagreb earlier on Tuesday, either side could have taken control of Group E with a victory.

But Milan were unable to push for a winner after levelling shortly before half-time, leaving the Rossoneri with just one win in their last 10 Champions League games (D3 L6), beating Atletico Madrid last November.

Meanwhile, no team will enjoy a trip to Austria; Salzburg are now unbeaten in their last five home games in UEFA's flagship club competition (W3 D2).

Salzburg rely on youth once again

Salzburg have acted as a springboard for several top-class talents in recent seasons, and if Okafor's excellent solo goal is anything to go by, the 22-year-old Swiss forward could be another.

Excluding own goals, each of their last 15 Champions League goals have been scored by players aged 23 or younger, the longest such run by any side in the competition's history.

Leao lays on a leveller

Having fired Milan to victory in the Derby della Madonnina on Saturday, Leao continued his electric form by teeing up Saelemaekers to get the Rossoneri back on level terms.

Leao has now delivered 11 assists in all competitions since the start of 2022, the most of any Serie A player.

What's next?

Milan travel to Sampdoria for their next Serie A outing on Saturday. Salzburg go to SV Ried in the Austrian Bundesliga on the same day, before facing Chelsea next Wednesday.