Offshore drilling, Italy: Inter Milan 4, Milan 2

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Man of the Match: Check my research on this, but Diego Milito recorded the first hat trick in a Derby della Madonnina (or, Milan derby) since José Altafini scored three for Milan in 1960. That day, Milan lost to Inter, 5-3. Today, Milan not only lost the game; they also lost the league.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Possibly the match of the weekend if you consider the confluence of significance, history, and actual in-game entertainment. Please let me know if you saw a better game (and I will spend the rest of my Sunday trying to track it down).
  • Besides Milito and Milan’s lost title defense, penalty kicks were the story of the day. The match featured three: one a blown call; one obvious; and one sparking an old debate;
    • Milan’s equalizer (44′, converted by Zlatan Ibrahimovic) saw midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng dive a millisecond before goalkeeper Julio César touched him while coming up to swallow a pass played behind Inter’s defense. It was a very convincing performance – perfectly timed such that only a few replay angles conclusively showed the fraud.
    • The obvious call was the second, right back Ignacio Abate pulling Milito down from behind after the Inter striker had beaten him in the left of Milan’s area. It was a terrible piece of defending. Then again, most given penalty kicks are.
    • The final penalty awarded, the one which led to the match winner, was more debatable, bringing  “ball to hand” into the conversation. A high pass from the right to Inter forward Giampaolo Pazzini was flicked onto defender Alessandro Nesta’s shoulder-high right arm. The hand ball was clearly unintentional, but it’s one that’s almost always given: arm in an unnatural playing position; the defending team benefitting from the play (the ball not allowed to go into the middle of the area). However, it was not an intentional hand ball, Nesta’s arm made no movement toward the pass, so some of the letters of the law are on Milan’s side.
  • Milan hadn’t given up four goals in a Serie A match since last January’s 4-4 draw with Udinese. One of the reasons they did so today: Three changes in a defense that also lost their starting right back (Daniele Bonera) and goalkeeper (Christian Abbiati) in the first half. Disorganization at the back played a part in each of the first two goals, while an outright error gifted a third.
  • The two early, forced subs meant Max Allegri’s hands were tied. He couldn’t make any changes until late, bringing on Antonio Cassano for Sulley Muntari in in 77th minute. Andrea Stramaccioni was able to start changing his side at the hour mark, after which Inter outscored Milan 2-0.
  • If Milan was hamstrung by their lack of substitutions for much of the second half, they were hamstrung by their tactics for beginning of the first. True, having Ibrahimovic play opposite right back Yuto Nagatomo could have worked, especially if Ibra had put him Robinho’s cross in the 12th minute. But taking Ibra out of the middle is always a risk. He could end up lost. For much of the fight half, Milan was overly reliant on Robinho because they had shifted their focal point out of the middle.
  • While Milan carried the burdens of tactics and a title race, Inter played like a team freed by lowed expectations, even if their Champions League lives were on the line. Particularly in the play of Esteban Cambiasso and Fredy Guarin in the middle, you could see Milan were going to have trouble matching Inter’s energy level.
  • As a result, Allegri was left to try a number of different configurations with his top three (Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Boateng) in order to promote his attack, but ultimately, it his problems at the back were too much to overcome. With no Thiago Silva, a backup goalkeeper in net (Marco Amelia), and an 18-year-old (Mattia Di Sciglio) making his third appearance at right back, Milan didn’t have enough to contain their rivals.
  • With the loss (and Juventus’s win), Milan’s title defense ends. They will finish second, next week’s visit from Novara rendered meaningless.
  • Inter’s season is basically over, too. They sit sixth, only three points back of third place Udinese, but they can’t finish in the top three (Udinese wins the head-to-head tiebreaker, Napoli wins a three-way tiebreak). Five points ahead of Roma and Parma, they have nothing to play for next week at the Olimpico, though given Lazio is still fighting with Udinese for Italy’s last Champions League berth, Inter will be expected to give the requisite effort.

Not need to write your congressman about Offshore drilling. You can get more examples of PST’s version here.

Zlatan confirms Manchester United departure

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has confirmed myriad reports he’s leaving Manchester United with a perfectly-Zlatan Instagram message.

Ibrahimovic is expected to join the LA Galaxy next week.

[ MORE: MLS All Stars vs. Juventus ]

The words aren’t too important, but Ibrahimovic posted an old graphic of him in Greek god garb, arm-wrestling a devil. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

The living Swedish legend, 36, has been limited to seven appearances, one start, and one goal in returning from a season-ending knee injury, but finishes his Manchester United tenure with an impressive 29 goals and 10 assists in 53 games (deduct the seven and one for peak impressiveness).

Bale breaks Wales scoring record

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Gareth Bale has now unquestionably written his name into Wales history.

The 28-year-old Real Madrid scored a hat-trick for Wales in its 6-0 demolition of China, taking his overall tally to 29 goals, breaking Ian Rush’s record.

“It is right up there, maybe as the best,” Bale told reporters after the game. “I suppose when I was a little boy I never dreamed of being a record-breaker for Wales. It is a massive honor. I was not thinking about it, but now it has come it’s an incredible honor and one of the best things I’ve achieved in my career. On a personal note it’s great to break the record, but I could not have done it without my team-mates.”

Bale was unable to carry Wales to the 2018 World Cup, but he first became a National Team legend by helping take Wales to the Euro 2016 semifinals, scoring three goals along the way.

Here’s a look at Bale’s record-breaking goal.

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Van Dijk named new Netherlands captain

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Virgil Van Dijk has had a pretty decent last three months since moving to Liverpool, and the towering defender earned a new personal achievement on Thursday.

Van Dijk was named the newest captain of the Netherlands National Team, where he’ll play under former manager Ronald Koeman. Van Dijk’s first game as captain will be against the nation where he currently plies his trade, England, on Friday.

“I am very happy with it, it is a great honor to be the captain of your country,” van Dijk said at a pre-match press conference Thursday. “Everyone knows that Koeman gave me the chance at Southampton, I am very grateful to him. This is very special.”

Van Dijk’s commanding presence in the Liverpool backline and previous stops at Southampton and Celtic make him an obvious choice for captain, taking the place of the now-retired Arjen Robben. At just 26-years old, van Dijk could carry the armband for a half dozen years if he keeps up his strong form.