Keisuke Honda scored twice as resurgent AC Milan broke into the Champions League places with a 3-1 win at Hellas Verona. The Rossoneri, who were helped along the road to victory by Rafael Marques' early own goal, climbed to fourth place in the Serie A table thanks to Japan forward Honda's well-taken brace. Ambitious Verona fought hard to rescue a share of the points and a late rally did see Nico Lopez grab a consolation goal, but Rafael Marquez's dismissal called time on their brave challenge. Milan dominated the opening exchanges, which saw Stephan El Shaarawy get Rafael working and Fernando Torres clipping just wide when through on goal. Marquez's free-kick fizzed over the crossbar down the other end before his near namesake Marques stopped Torres from scoring at the end of a swift counter-attacking move. The Brazilian centre-back would be brought back down to earth in humbling fashion in the 21st minute, however, as he sliced home an improbable own goal. When Ignazio Abate drove a speculative cross into the box, Marques' poor clearance sent the ball spinning beyond the bewildered Rafael. Emil Hallfredsson almost notched a quick equaliser with a fiercely-struck left-footed effort that kissed a post. Verona were duly punished for wasting the chance as Honda plundered his fifth goal of the season. Milan were again incisive on the counter-attack and the final ball inside to an unchallenged Honda was soon pinged into the net by the in-form Japanese. The Rossoneri were lucky to carry their two-goal lead into the break, with Christian Abbiati thrice standing strong to repel a determined Verona. The goalkeeper tipped Luca Toni's acrobatic attempt out for a corner before producing a miracle save on Bosko Jankovic's bullet header. Then, seven minutes before half-time, he punched the ball clear after Toni had shrugged off the attentions of Adil Rami to race clear, while Verona were hit for a third goal in the 56th minute. It was Rami who picked a hole in their backline to send Honda careering into the penalty box and the former CSKA Moscow striker made no mistake in beating Rafael. Verona did not let their heads drop and pushed back hard, with Panagiotis Tachtsidis and Juanito Gomez both giving Abbiati further food for thought as the game entered its final half-hour. The Gialloblu remained determined to force their way back into the tie and should have blotted Milan's clean sheet in the 74th minute. First, Rami took the ball off Toni's feet when Abbiati looked beaten and, moments later, the veteran striker failed to apply the right contact to a low cross into the six-yard box. Three minutes from time the hosts were finally rewarded for their perseverance as a searing solo run from Lopez yielded a late goal. The young Uruguayan picked up the ball on the right wing before leaving Sulley Muntari on the ground and beating Abbiati with an unstoppable drive off his left boot. Verona should have narrowed the gap to a single goal before full-time but Nene improbably looped the ball over the bar when teed up by the increasingly frustrated Toni. The draw was beyond the hosts when the game entered stoppage time, yet they could have done without losing Marquez to a second yellow card as he went in late on Giacomo Bonaventura.
Football SERIE A