Afternoon Calcio fans. After a hectic summer of transfer activity in Italy the 2013-14 campaign finally gets underway this evening, with Milan and Verona the first two sides to strut their stuff this season.
For Verona tonight's opening fixture marks their first action in the Italian top-flight since 2002, and what a game it promises to be. Milan are genuine title contenders after matching Juventus stride for stride during the second half of last season, but must be wary of an early scalp on the road today.
Let's dive straight in and look at tonight's two sides, which features a surprise start in Milan's attack for M'Baye Niang
. Meanwhile Luca Toni
and Bosko Jankovic both make their Verona debuts in attack. A full look at both teams will follow very shortly.
MILAN: Abbiati, Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Constant, Poli, Montolivo, Nocerino, Niang, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
VERONA:Rafael, Cacciatore, Maietta, Moras, Albertazzi, Jorginho, Donati, Romulo, Jankovic, Toni, Martinho
So Milan will lineup in a 4-3-3 formation, with Mario Balotelli
and Stephan El Shaarawy
partnered in attack by Niang. Andrea Poli
makes a full debut in central midfield, while Antonio Nocerino also starts with Sully Muntari
out through suspension.
Verona will be heavily reliant on Toni and Boskovic for goals in their fight for survival, while Italy youth international Jorginho is definitely one to watch out wide.
PREDICTION! As the two teams emerge to a fantastic atmosphere at the Bentegodi there is just time to register a prediction. Verona should have plenty of motivation to make life difficult for Milan tonight, and will hope the visitors have one eye on a Champions League qualifier in midweek. I still think Milan will have too much quality in the final third for the Sere A newboys, with El Shaarawy to find the target in a 2-0 away win.
We are slightly late getting underway as the teams finish pre-match formalities. Milan will kickoff in just a few moments, shooting from left to right in changed all-white strip. What a test this will be for Verona, can they produce an early shock to take the headlines after 11 years away from Italy's top flight? We are about to find out!
Balotelli and Niang combine early on just outside the penalty area, but Moras reads the danger and is well placed to scramble clear. Nocerino helps the visitors recycle possession, but once again the hosts respond as Jankovic drops deep to help his side emerge with the ball.
Montolivo is given space and decides to shoot from distance, firing high over the crossbar from around 30 yards. Niang then shows quick feet out wide to win a free kick, flicking through Albertazzi's legs to draw the foul.
A poor touch from Zapata in defence gifts Verona a corner kick, with Montolivo equally culpable after fizzing a surprising pass backwards. The hosts send numbers forward but the ball in is a huge disappointment, with Raphael Martinho's wayward cross clearing a packed penalty area.
SHOT! Balotelli collects a pass inside from Poli and decides to strike from 20 yards. His powerful drive is heading towards the corner but stays at a nice height for Rafael, who makes a smart stop with two hands. Poli wanted the return pass there, but is quickly told to be quiet by Balotelli, who holds his finger to his lips as a cue for the young midfielder.
Martinho is furious after being penalised for a foul on Zapata while attempting to drive forward, but definitely clipped the defender's heels to send him tumbling over. Milan are just starting to exert some authority in central midfield, with Montolivo and Poli both lively early on.
GOAL! Verona 0-1 Milan (Poli)
A superb composed finish from Poli has handed the youngster a debut goal as Milan break the deadlock. The midfielder continued his run to meet a quick through ball from Balotelli. Poli still had two defenders to beat, but dropped his shoulder to shimmy past both before guiding into the far corner. What a start to the 23-year-old's Rossoneri career.
Zapata stamps his authority on Toni with a perfectly-timed sliding tackle on Toni, with Milan now controlling possession. As the visitors break clear Jorginho clatters into the back of Balotelli, picking up an early caution for a cynical challenge.
Balotelli strikes a free kick in a deadpan style made famous by Cristiano Ronaldo, but his effort is always rising high and finishes a few yards over the crossbar.
Verona's very direct style is just not going to cut it against the combination of Zapata and Mexes, with Toni isolated in the final third. Constant then comes in late on the follow-through as he attempts to tackle Jankovic out wide, giving the hosts a free kick out wide which fails to beat the first defender.
YELLOW CARD! Montolivo is robbed in possession by Romulo as Verona break with men over in the final third. The Milan skipper holds up the counter with a cynical challenge as he retreats, allowing Zapata to avert danger with a block on Jorginho. The referee then pulls back play and cautions Montolivo, with little complaint from the midfielder.
GOAL! Verona 1-1 Milan (Toni)
The hosts are level and what a moment for Luca Toni, who has his 110th Serie A goal to equalise for Verona. The forward was inexplicably left free at the far post, meeting a curling corner to head home from close range. The 36-year-old was never going to miss from there, with a static Milan defence brutally exposed to undermine a strong start.
Niang shows pace to break clear at the far post as Milan look for a swift response, with Zapata cleaned out by Toni as the visitors played backwards to keep possession. That is definitely an individual clash to listen out for, as Martinho's dart down the wing is halted by a block tackle from Niang.
Balotelli is penalised for handball after controlling inside the area, much to the amusement of a vocal home crowd. They nearly have more to cheer at the other end, with Toni forcing Abbiati to palm clear after being allowed space to turn and shoot from 20 yards.
YELLOW CARD! Verona enjoy a sustained spell of possession which is eventually disrupted as Abate intercepts a diagonal ball over the top. At the other end Milan are awarded a free kick as Jankovic becomes the latest player to foul Balotelli. He is booked for a needless sliding tackle and can have little complaint.
Toni beats Zapata again in the air to flick a header on towards goal, which Abbiati catches comfortably.
HALF TIME Verona 1-1 Milan
Well that was quite a way to start the new Serie A season, with Verona responding brilliantly to level at the break against the might of Milan. Toni's header left Allegri's side stunned, but in truth the visitors have created little other than Poli's excellent opening goal.
Milan started the brighter and controlled possession from the outset, taking the lead after Balotelli and Poli combined to deadly effect in the final third. The Rossoneri were unable to hold onto that advantage though, with slack defending allowing Toni to break free and head home a quick leveller.
Verona have definitely spoken at length before the match about how best to diffuse Balotelli, with rotational fouling on the Azzurri forward a key theme of the first period. El Shaarawy has been worryingly quiet for the visitors so far today, finding time and space difficult to come by on the left-hand side.
Allegri may turn to his substitutes to make the difference late on if Verona continue to frustrate. Attacking options are at a premium for the Rossoneri tonight however on the bench, with Robinho
the only recognised forward with any first-team experience available.
Both teams are back out at the Bentegodi, with the owness definitely on Milan to press and force the issue when play resumes. Verona will continue to look for Toni as they get the second half underway.
Milan settle in early possession at the back as Mexes brings ball out of defence, with Balotelli furious not get a free kick after backing into Maietta as he controlled the ball.
Niang has to do better when given good service out on that right-hand side. The French youngster tries to beat two players with a stepover but gets it all wrong, conceding possession cheaply. With Giampaolo Pazzini out injured Allegri needs the starlet to perform, but he's been a disappointment so far today.
YELLOW CARD! Martinho stretches the Milan defence with a pacy burst out wide, touching the ball past Zapata before being hauled down by the Colombian. A cynical challenge gives Verona another chance to load the box with a dangerous free kick.
SAVE! Abbiati has just bailed out Milan with a wonderful reaction save. The veteran goalkeeper saw Jankovic's diving header late but luckily for the visitors a powerful effort stayed central enough for him to tip over.
GOAL! Verona 2-1 Milan (Toni)
A classy second for Toni has left Milan shellshocked as Verona take the lead in some style. The veteran wriggled free of Zapata to meet a fantastic cross from Jankovic, who swerved an inviting cross towards the far post with the outside of his left foot. Toni makes the most of the service to send a powerful header into the bottom corner, giving Abbiati no chance. What a finish from a forward who is clearly still capable of shining at this level.
Albertazzi keeps Verona moving forward by winning a corner kick, which finds former Milan defender Donati at the near post. Once again the marking from Milan leaves a lot to be desired, but from a tight angle his header goes well wide.
Now it's Milan's turn to apply pressure at the other end, with Balotelli's shot blocked clear after Mexes got his contact all wrong with an attempted overhead kick. You have to think that Allegri is considering changes after a dire start to the second half.
Donati just attempted to play on with one boot in his hand after refusing to stop to put it back on, with the referee eventually stopping play to warn him against it. When play resumes Verona break clear with pace and purpose down the left through Martinho, who send a speculative shot towards goal that Abbiati punches away for a corner kick.
SUBSTITUTIONS: Allegri decides to make a change in attack, with El Shaarawy replaced by young forward Petagna for his Milan debut. Niang has also paid the price for a largely anonymous display, with Urby Emanuelson on out wide.
Petagna gets an instant chance to impress thanks to a superb cross from Montolivo, but makes poor contact with a header that loops high into the air and away. Verona have retreated in the last five minutes, gut a static Milan forward line has so far failed to take advantage.
Balotelli cannot believe he has not been awarded a penalty after going down under a challenge from Moras. The tackle was strong and saw the defender make contact with both ball and man, with the referee deciding against giving a spot kick.
On reflection Balotelli was brought down just outside the area, but the referee had to give that foul as he stood just a few yards away from the incident. The official is then involved again quickly as Petagna is rightly penalised for controlling with his arm inside the area.
Verona break through Romulo after Moras robbed Balotelli with precision in his own half, with Jankovic eventually driving over from range as a cynical challenge saw the move break down.
This time it's Verona who feel they should have got the benefit of the doubt in a penalty appal, as Toni controls a pass from Jankovic before being hauled over by Zapata. Once again a lenient official disagrees, allowing play to continue as Milan break down the left through Nocerino.
Milan use their final change to go for broke as Robinho
replaced Constant. Verona have also introduced fresh legs in midfield with their first change, swapping Martinho for Argentine youngster Gomez Taleb.
Robinho gets involved quickly to combine with Balotelli, sending a brilliant ball across goal that drifts wide of danger without a touch. Petagna was the furthest player in support but failed to read the Brazilian's intentions, deciding to hold his run at the centre circle. Time running out for the Rossneri to respond.
SUBSTITUTIONS: Montolivo smashes a low strike towards goal from range that changes course after bouncing in the box, but Rafael reads it to parry clear. Soon after Verona make two changes as Toni leaves to a rapturous reception on his debut, with Hallfredsson and Cacia on for the final few minutes.
SAVE! Balotelli wriggles free to shoot from 20 yards after more inventive play from Robinho, but Rafael is equal to his curling effort and saves at his near post. Milan then cross back into the danger zone, with Moras able to hammer away as two Milan players wait unmarked at the far post. Nervy signs at last for the Serie A newboys as they close in on a famous win.
YELLOW CARD! Balotelli has been on the wrong end of some harsh calls tonight but this penalty shout in stoppage time is by the worst yet. The forward is pushed to the floor by Moras as he attempts to meet a long pass, but once again is not awarded a spot kick. The forward angrily protests and gets a caution for his appeal as we enter four minute of added time.
A last attack for Milan as Abate drives into the penalty area, but his cross is headed away by Moras. That should just about do it for Verona as we enter the final 30 seconds.
Balotelli chases down a lost cause near the corner flag and wins a last-gasp free kick. Montolivo takes and sends a cross into the box, which Rafael initially drops before gathering at the second time of asking.
FULL TIME Verona 2-1 Milan
Well that was some start to Serie A, with Verona claiming a famous scalp to beat Milan on their return to the Italian top flight. Veteran Luca Toni made the difference, bagging a brace on his debut to leave Allegri's side stunned into submission as they failed to respond.
That just about does it for our coverage from the Bentegodi but don't despair, I'll back with live text commentary of Juventus versus Sampdoria very shortly. Good evening!