Milan head coach Stefano Pioli hailed the “wonderful” story of Junior Messias, who scored the Rossoneri’s winning goal in a crucial 1-0 Champions League victory over Atletico Madrid just three years after making his professional debut.
Messias, 30, moved to Italy to work as a delivery driver before ascending the ranks of Italian football in his late twenties.
He headed Franck Kessie’s cross into the bottom corner of Jan Oblak’s net in the 87th minute at Wanda Metropolitano to earn Milan victory and rescue their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages, which were hanging by a thread.
Messias is on loan at Milan from Crotone, and Pioli indicated he may have a bright future at San Siro.
“His story is wonderful,” Pioli told Amazon Prime Video Italia.
“But I think this is just the beginning for him, because he has real quality.
“He had some difficulties when he first arrived, but now will really help the team.”
His first AC Milan goal on his #UCL debut. The stuff of dreams
— AC Milan (@acmilan) November 24, 2021
Milan face Group B winners Liverpool in their next Champions League game with any one of Milan, Porto and Atletico still in the hunt to qualify alongside the Reds.
Pioli made no apologies for the touchline celebrations that followed Messias’ goal, saying: “It’s only right to celebrate with my players, because they put in a wonderful performance.
“They played with quality and courage, they always believed in themselves and it’s right now that I celebrate with them.
“This is the right path and tonight we saw an important show of this team’s maturity.”
Pioli’s opposite number Diego Simeone brushed off the disappointment of the result and turned his focus to Atletico’s final Group B game against Porto.
Victory over Porto would secure Atletico’s place in the knockout stage if Milan fail to beat Liverpool, and Simeone told reporters: “I am optimistic, I always was and I will not change.
“The team will compete well. I have no doubt that the Champions League does not forgive you, and who deserves it makes it.
“Milan can win at home, Porto at home and we away. Whoever deserves it will win.”