Zlatan and Hakan steal the show

Europa League: Shamrock Rovers 0 AC Milan 2

Zlatan Ibrahimovic of AC Milan in action during the Europa League match against Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Some arguments you just cannot win when the case made by your opponent is so strong it can't be tested.

And that was the case for Shamrock Rovers as their pandemic-scarred entry into UEFA competition in 2020 comes to an end after two games, the outcome of their behind-closed-doors tussle with AC Milan never really in doubt. The Italian side were superior to the Dublin outfit in every aspect, with a 2-0 win to take away from their trip to Ireland to play Shamrock Rovers.

"When we analyse it the main feeling will be pride, we tried to play our way against a very, very good side," said Rovers manager Stephen Bradley.

"We knew we were up against it in terms of quality but we didn't take a step back. We played our way and that was the most pleasing thing.

"After the game, Paulo Maldini and the coach came over and were really, really positive on how they spoke about how we play and full of compliments about how we play. It's nice to hear those things."

So much of the pre-match focus was on the impact that talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic could make, and he did indeed stamp his class all over the game, getting the first goal for his club, playing a role in their second with a succession of assists for chances that just didn't come off.

Rovers players will see this game as one to tell the grandkids about, the day they went toe-to-toe with one of the modern greats of the European game in the form of Milan's No. 11.

But in time those players will reflect on this night when they battled with footballers who are not as well known, but names like Hakan Calhanoglu, Franck Kessie and Bennacer Ismael will trip off the tongue as easily, as they were a treat for the eyes, an utter joy to watch.

Calhanoglu stood head and shoulders above those around him in green and white hoops, men against boys for spells despite the effort of Rovers.

It was not all one-way traffic as Rovers had chances. Aaron Greene with a hat-trick of them, but no goals as the figure of Gianluigi Donnarumma in the Milan goal was an immovable object.

Rovers tried to play their possession game, the style which has them on course to win the league title this season, but holding onto the ball in a domestic league game and against a major European power are different things.

Graham Burke has been a key figure for the Hoops this season, but he just could not get on the ball. It was a frustrating night for the Ireland international who was being watched in Tallaght Stadium by Stephen Kenny.

Rovers knew that to pull off what would have been the biggest shock of all time for an Irish club in European competition they needed everything to go their way and could not afford to make mistakes, making Milan work for their goals if they were to get them.

And after a relatively quiet start it was the home side who had the first chance of the game on 13 minutes. Jack Byrne played in a superb ball for Greene who bore down on goal and fired in a shot which needed a save from Donnarumma.

Milan bided their time in what was their first competitive game of the season and it was an error from Rovers which opened the door for the Italians on 23 minutes.

Lopes tried to play the ball out of defence but French full back Theo Hernandez pounced, played it to Ibrahimovic whose quick pass was received and passed on again by the impressive Calhanoglu and Ibrahimovic was waiting for the return pass to finish past Mannus.

It could have been 2-0 minutes later, Ibrahimovic again the threat as he played in Samuel Castillejo and Rovers needed Aaron McEneff's alertness to clear in the box.

Rovers tried to respond, as a great ball from Joey O'Brien sent Greene on his way again. He shrugged aside Matteo Gabbia and fired at Donnarumma who conceded a corner.

Milan exerted sustained pressure on Rovers in the second half and were rewarded on 67 minutes, Calhanoglu with the finish after a patient build up in a move started by Ibrahimovic.

Greene threatened again on 71 minutes, getting a shot on goal from a cross by sub Dylan Watts, but Donnamurra was comfortable with the save.

The game sewn up, Milan coach Stefano Pioli used the closing stages to get minutes into his players' legs. There was a debut for new signing Sandro Tonali, while fellow sub Brahim Diaz came up with a stunning move late on to play in Castellijo.

Milan had to make do with that 2-0 lead which was enough for progress and a meeting with Norwegian opposition in the third round next week.