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Saturday, 3 March 2012

Ibrahimovic hits hat-trick as Milan win

Milan: Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned from his suspension in style as his first-half hat trick helped AC Milan to a 4-0 win at Palermo on Saturday.

The Serie A leader moved three points clear after Juventus drew 1-1 with Chievo Verona in what could prove to be a decisive day in the title race.

Ibrahimovic fired Milan in front in the 22nd minute and benefited from another Robinho assist just after half an hour before completing his treble with a stunning long-range shot in the 35th.

The Sweden striker would have added to his first-half tally but for a wonder save from Palermo goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano.

Thiago Silva completed the rout shortly before the hour mark.

It was Ibrahimovic's first game back following a three-match ban for slapping Napoli defender Salvatore Aronica. He took his tally to 18 for the season, drawing level with Udinese forward Antonio Di Natale at the top of the goalscoring charts.

"Milan is strong even without Ibra, because a great squad has so many strong players and even without me the squad showed it knew how to play well and win," Ibrahimovic said after his second Serie A hat trick and first for Milan. "I will make everyone sign the ball and then I'll give it to my kids to play with.

"This was a very important victory. It's not easy to play here at Palermo but we did well. What happened happened but the squad did well even without me, winning two games and drawing the other, which apart from anything else we deserved to win."

There was even better news for Massimiliano Allegri's side later as Boukary Drame leveled for Chievo in Turin after Paolo De Ceglie put Juventus ahead.

Milan was three points ahead, although unbeaten Juventus has a game in hand.

"I'm disappointed because today's match was one we had to and could have won, there's a lot of regret," Juventus coach Antonio Conte said. "We always play flat out so occasionally there's a slight drop and it's a psychological one.

"Today it seemed as if we wanted to take on the world and we wasted too much energy and left ourselves exposed to so many Chievo counterattacks, and I didn't like that. But there are teams which are better equipped than we are and we have to be proud of what we are doing. What the boys are doing is miraculous."

Milan heads into the second leg of its Champions League last-16 match with Arsenal with even more confidence. Leading 4-0 from the first leg, it will expect to complete the job in London on Tuesday.

It is Palermo's second hefty defeat in a row, and its third loss in its past four games — although it is the first time the Sicilian side has lost at home this year.

Milan went in front when Sulley Muntari slipped but fortunately managed to intercept a Palermo pass and get the ball to Robinho, who touched in for Ibrahimovic to curl into the top left corner.

On a counterattack, Robinho again found Ibrahimovic, who controlled well before cutting inside and firing into the left corner.

Ibrahimovic grabbed his third four minutes later when he whipped the ball into the bottom right corner from 25 yards.

The former Inter Milan star could have had another in the 39th but Viviano somehow managed to deflect Ibrahimovic's six-yard effort to safety.

Milan came close to extending its lead seven minutes after the break but Viviano did well to turn Thiago Silva's free kick around his right post. The Palermo goalkeeper pulled off another good save moments later to deny Stephan El Shaarawy.

However, Viviano could do nothing when El Shaarawy's cross was headed in by Thiago Silva. Palermo almost got one back minutes later when Edgar Barreto's effort crashed off the left post.


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