Sao Paulo produced the performance of the tournament so far, thrashing AC Milan 5-0 in another vivid illustration of their Championship potential.
Milan had ridden their luck on their journey to the semi-finals, having been seconds from elimination in their engrossing group game with arch-rivals Juventus. But on Friday afternoon their luck ran out as they were ruthlessly dismantled by a Brazilian side who demonstrated that the future of the beautiful game burns bright, despite the national team’s recent travails.
Forward Gustavo Dos Santos, with three goals to his name so far, was left on the bench, but it was instantly clear that Sao Paulo would not miss him. With the game less than three minutes old, they almost took the lead when imperious midfielder Eder Militao played a fine through ball to Paulo Da Silva, who raced free from his own half before rounding keeper Francesco Cancelli and shooting from a narrow angle on the left, only for his fine effort to be cleared off the line. Milan had been warned.
The Italians once again focused on containment early on, but their cautious attitude was to cost them dear as Sao Paulo began to dominate, and on 15 minutes they were ahead, albeit in controversial fashion, when Milan’s Michele Spinelli was penalised for pulling the shirt of Militao as they jostled for position at a corner. Striker Da Silva stepped up and confidently stroked the ball home low to the left.
Milan were holding a high defensive line that left them susceptible to the ball over the top, and Militao once again capitalised by sending a delicious pass from the centre circle out to the left, which Da Silva took in his stride. His progress was curtailed as he bore down on the left of the area and from the resulting free kick, swung in by Pedro De Oliviera, Caique Maria headed inches wide of the right-hand post.
The Brazilians were playing with unbridled confidence and nearly went two ahead on 21 minutes when De Oliviera attempted an audacious lob from all of 45 yards that only just went over the bar.
Seconds later Milan were almost back in the game after constructing their first chance of the match. Niccolo Zanellato fed Cosimo La Ferrara on the left of the area, who crossed low for Matteo Gabbia, his low strike flying just wide of the left-hand post. La Ferrara himself had a great chance moments later, advancing into the area from the left but shooting just wide of the far post.
Enjoying their best – all too brief – spell of the game, Milan had a penalty claim turned down when Agnero was adjudged to have dived under pressure from Rodrigo Freitas, with the Italian striker yellow carded as a result. And seconds later they were two behind, their high defensive line once again costing them dear after full back Mateus Andrade played a marvellous long ball from the left touchline into the path of Bruno Rapanelli, who took the high pass in his stride before firing past a despairing Cancelli.
Sao Paulo, a joy to watch, were effortlessly combining tenacious tackling with expansive attacking play, leaving Milan chased shadows as the clock ticked down on the first half, and a similar pattern was established as the second period began.
Milan had a rare opportunity on 58 minutes after winning a free kick in a central position 25 yards out. Captain de Piano played it short to substitute Tommaso Pobega who advanced down the left before cutting the ball back to Francesco Gobbi, his snatched effort blazed over the bar when he should certainly have hit the target.
Seconds later striker Augusto Galvan was guilty of overconfidence after advancing into the area and attempting an ambitious lob over the keeper. Da Silva retrieved the ball and played it back to Galvan, whose close range effort cannoned back of the right-hand post.
With Militao and central midfield partner Igor Periera bossing the game, Milan coach Ricardo Monguzzi sacrificed defender Raul Zuchetti for midfielder Careccia in a belated attempt to stifle the Brazilian duo’s dominance.
However, the Milanese were helpless to counter the creativity of Man-of-the-Match Paulo Da Silva, who constantly threatened and should have finished at least one of the several chances that came his way. Yet the Italians continued gifting space to the Brazilian forward, and he made them pay on 80 minutes, accepting a low cross from Galvan on the left to give Sao Paulo an unassailable lead.
And they made it four with two minutes remaining when Zanellato hauled back Pereira inside the area. With previous penalty scorer Da Silva having been substituted minutes earlier, Galvan stepped up and slotted home low to the right.
And the Brazilians completed the rout in added time when Milan failed to clear their lines, with the ball falling to an unmarked Andrade who had the easiest of chances to slot home from six yards out. As the delirious Sao Paulo players celebrated wildly on the final whistle, the disconsolate Milan players trudged off. Yet they can perhaps take a crumb of comfort from the knowledge that, if the Brazilians had taken all of their chances, the score could easily have reached double figures.