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Champions League knockouts ‘the first step’ for Milan, says Pioli

Stefano Pioli said AC Milan were just taking their first steps back into the big time after guiding the Italian giants into the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in nine years.

Pioli’s week started in the perfect fashion by extending his Milan contract to 2025 on Monday and he rewarded the club with a 4-0 win over Salzburg on Wednesday which ensured second place in Group E behind Chelsea.

Milan’s arrival in the last 16 of Europe’s top competition crowns a resurgence under Pioli from also-rans to Serie A champions, but the 57-year-old wants his team to aim even higher.

“It’s only the first step, we can’t stop. If we want to be successful in Europe we can’t be satisfied with getting to the last 16 but trying to go further,” Pioli told reporters.

Finishing second leaves Milan with Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Real Madrid as potential opponents in the next round, with the second leg away from home.

The one doubt surrounding Pioli’s exciting team is their ability to deal with Europe’s top-tier sides, as they were comfortably beaten by Chelsea in both their matches with the Premier League club.

“This has always been a group of players who have had so much hunger and desire to do everything possible,” Pioli added.

“We’re the Italian champions, we didn’t get in the Champions League any old way. We’re a good team, and we have very good players. 

“Whoever we play against will be a good team. Any team which wins their group also has the ability to win the Champions League.”

The draw for the last 16 of the Champions League will be held in Nyon on Monday.

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