Zlatan Ibrahimovic got off the mark for AC Milan with a brace to down Auxerre 2-0 in the Champions League at San Siro on Wednesday.
The 24-million-euro signing, who missed a penalty on his debut away to Cesena on Saturday, started to pay back his big fee as he netted twice in the second half in a game that had been evenly poised until then.
Auxerre had frustrated the hosts until the mid-point of the second period and in fact come closer to scoring, but Milan’s superior class told in the end in their first Group G encounter.
In netting, Ibrahimovic matched Hernan Crespo’s record of having scored for five different clubs in the Champions League.
“He played well, he had a great second half because he played more with the team and above all he converted two important chances,” said Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri.
“He’s a great player, he’s fast, he’s got great technique and together with the other elements of our attack we’ve got a great player, without diminshing the importance of the others who did very well.”
Auxerre boss Jean Fernandez said his team simply could not keep up with their opponents.
“We knew before the match that Milan had more quality than us, we didn’t need to play to know that,” he said.
“They’ve had 900 European matches and we’ve had 15 in the Champions League.
“My regret is that we suffered physically after one hour. We struggle to manage matches every three days. We don’t have a big squad.”
The hosts were almost embarrassed on five minutes as Andrea Pirlo was dispossesed by Valter Birsa with the ball breaking to Steeven Langil, but he didn’t really get hold of his shot from an angle and Christian Abbiati made a comfortable save.
Milan’s first chance came on 20 minutes with a Pirlo free-kick that goalkeeper Olivier Sorin punched clear.
The hosts had an escape moments later as Kenyan Dennis Oliech’s towering header from Benoit Pedretti’s corner came back off the bar.
At the other end Ronaldinho’s impudent backheel released the overlapping Luca Antonini who pulled the ball back for Kevin-Prince Boateng — on as an early substitute for injured captain Massimo Ambrosini — but his shot and Alexandre Pato’s follow-up were both blocked by sprawling bodies.
The French visitors should have gone into the break in the lead after a lightning counter-attack but Langil opted to shoot despite three team-mates waiting for a pull-back and he blazed his effort wildly over the bar.
Milan were quickly on the attack after the restart, Ronaldinho playing an inviting cross into the box that Pato could only prod into Sorin’s grateful arms.
When the first goal came on 66 minutes it showed the difference in quality between the two teams.
Ronaldinho curled the ball into the area and Boateng made a diagonal run to glance the ball into Ibrahimovic’s path six yards out, from where he couldn’t miss.
Ibrahimovic took the plaudits from the fans but tellingly Pirlo ran up to congratulate Boateng, whose vision had proved decisive.
Three minutes later Auxerre got caught pushing for the equaliser as Ronaldinho ran at the heart of their defence and slipped the ball left to Ibrahimovic, who curled it inside the far post.
Boateng missed a chance to open his Milan account as he ran onto another delightful Ronaldinho cross, but he couldn’t make clean contact.
Oliech should have set up a grandstand finale after a neat one-two with Ireneusz Jelen but he went for the near post and Abbiati got down well to save.
Jelen then had the ball in the net but was clearly offside.
Ibrahimovic’s fellow new boy Robinho had two late chances to get himself on the scoresheet but seemed to lack sharpness.
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