A stunning header from Junior Messias in the dying minutes handed AC Milan a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid and kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the last-16 in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The goal also highlights Messias’ remarkable career journey that has gone from delivering fridges to scoring on his Champions League debut when the Brazilian came off the bench to net the winner.
The 30-year-old, who joined the Rossoneri from Crotone in the off-season, scored with his first attempt as a Milan player on his third appearance, and his first in Europe’s elite competition.
“I dedicate it to my family and friends in Brazil. But especially to those who have believed in me and who had the faith to bring me to Milan. I have had a different path to others, so I dedicate this goal to them,” Messias told Amazon Prime.
Messias moved to Italy from Brazil in 2011 and initially juggled amateur football with a job delivering fridges, before slowly climbing up the football ladder.
In 2015, he joined Casale in the fifth tier of Italian football, then rising through Serie D, C and B in subsequent years before finally making his Serie A debut last season with Crotone aged 29.
“This is the most important thing that has happened to me so far,” he said. “But humility has to be a constant. You can’t beat yourself up about criticism or get over-excited about compliments. You need to have the right balance.”
Milan arrived in Madrid rooted to the bottom of Group B with only one point and anything but a win against Atletico would have eliminated them from this season’s competition.
“It was a tough game, a tight game, with a lot of effort from the teams, trying to get an advantage in the small details. They took the chance they had, we couldn’t take ours with Matheus Cunha, and the game got away from us,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.
Wednesday’s result means the race to see who will join group winners Liverpool in the next round will go down to the wire. FC Porto, who are on five points, as well as Milan and Atletico, who are tied on four points, will have to wait until the final round of fixtures to decide who will finish second, and hence progress to the last 16.
Milan will host Liverpool while Atletico will travel to Porto on Dec. 7 for the final Group B fixtures.
In a freezing night in Madrid, a packed crowd at the Metropolitano Stadium failed to spur on Atletico, who struggled to make any kind of impact against a Milan side who showed urgency and aggression in a must-win situation.
Brazilian Messias broke the deadlock in the 87th minute with a spectacular header after latching on to a perfect cross from Franck Kessie.
“That’s football. We have one game left, there’s life, we have to give everything until the end. I believe in the team, we can win in any stadium, and now we have to show that, and we’ll see,” Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann said.
Atletico defender Jose Maria Gimenez owned up to being out of position for Milan’s game winner.
“We have to accept our mistakes, accept the blame, in the end I was the defender who was in that zone, I’m the one responsible. So it hurts, it hurts a lot because defensively we’d done quite a good job and that detail makes everything much more difficult for us,” Gimenez said.
As for Messias, Milan coach Stefano Pioli said there is much more to come from the late-blooming star.
“It is a wonderful story, but I think he is only getting started. He has great qualities, and this goal will give him even more belief,” Pioli said.
Information from Reuters and ESPN Madrid correspondent Alex Kirkland was used in this report.