Theo Hernandez refused to disclose whether his future remains with Milan amid links to Bayern Munich, as the France international places his full focus on Euro 2024.

Defender Hernandez, brother of Paris Saint-Germain's Lucas, has reportedly drawn interest from Vincent Kompany's Bayern as the Bundesliga giants aim to bolster their defence.

The 26-year-old continues to impress for the Serie A side, who appointed Paulo Fonseca as Stefano Pioli's success this week, despite Milan finishing well behind rivals Inter in the 2023-24 campaign.

Unsurprisingly, his reliable form has led to speculation over his future in Italy, though Hernandez does not want to think about that ahead of France's Euro 2024 opener against Austria on Monday.

"Now I am 100 per cent focused on the Euros," Hernandez said on Saturday. 

"Whether I will stay at Milan or leave, we'll see about this afterwards."

Pressed on a potential return to Spain, Hernandez responded: "At the moment I'm not thinking about it yet."

Hernandez was a key figure for Milan once again in the season just past, with no defender scoring more than his five Serie A goals.

Only Inter's Federico Dimarco (11) bettered Hernandez's nine direct goal contributions in the league among defenders, too, as the pair prepare to compete at the European Championship in Germany.

France boss Didier Deschamps will be expected to utilise the attacking side of Hernandez's game once more as Les Bleus aim to go one better than at Euro 2016, when they lost to Portugal in the final.

"We are working to be at our best, this is a competition where there are very good national teams," he added. 

"We have made good preparations and now we feel the impatience to play this debut match. We have to get to the end like in the 2022 World Cup. There are many leaders in this group, and I am very happy to be here.

"We are working on various things. I like attacking, I love the offensive phase. With the coach we tried various situations.

"I made progress from a defensive point of view. When I arrived at Milan, I wasn't very good in defence. Now it's better, but I prefer to attack."

Stefano Pioli knows AC Milan face a “steep climb” to rescue their season as reports the Rossoneri boss could soon be replaced continue to gather steam.

Milan have won their last five Serie A games and next face relegation-threatened Sassuolo on Sunday but Thursday’s 1-0 home defeat by Italian rivals Roma in the Europa League quarter-finals did nothing to help dispel talk of Pioli’s potentially-imminent departure.

Reports suggest former Real Madrid and Wolves head coach Julen Lopetegui is being lined up to succeed Pioli, whose contract at San Siro does not expire until June 2025.

It has been claimed the Parma-born manager has the next three games to save his job: at Sassuolo this weekend, the return leg at Roma and then crucially the derby against Inter Milan on April 22.

With the Nerazzurri 14 points ahead as the domestic campaign enters its final seven games, losing to Inter could effectively end the title race and leave Milan looking over their shoulder at Juventus – while their European adventure could already be over if they fail to remove Roma’s advantage, earned by Gianluca Mancini’s first-half goal at San Siro.

Pioli told reporters after the Europa League clash: “The climb is steep because the level has risen, but I’m convinced the team can play at a higher level and if we play at that level, we have every chance of playing.

“That’s what I told the team after the game.”

Midfielder Tommaso Pobega and defender Pierre Kalula are unavailable for Sunday’s Mapei Stadium showdown due to injury, with Theo Hernandez and Filippo Terracciano’s involvement in the balance. Tijjani Reijnders is more likely to be involved than English midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

In the Sassuolo camp, winger Domenico Berardi’s season is already over thanks to an Achilles tear and Norway defender Marcus Holmgren Pedersen is at least a few weeks away in his recovery.

The Neroverdi are two points from safety after being denied victory by Salernitana at the death last time out, Giulio Maggiore scoring a last-minute equaliser in a 2-2 draw to deny the Emilia-Romagna club their first away win since late November.

Well-travelled veteran boss Davide Ballardini took over in Sassuolo at the beginning of March and has taken six points from his five games so far.

The Watermelon Peel can perhaps take heart from one of the shock results of last term when they stunned Milan 5-2 at San Siro, but they have not won the home version of this match-up since March 2016, losing six of the seven subsequent editions.

AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli is refusing to look any further ahead than Saturday’s Serie A trip to Fiorentina as he targets a rousing finish to the season.

The Rossoneri, who have won their last five games in all competitions, head for the Stadio Artemio Franchi sitting in second place in the table, 14 points adrift of derby rivals Inter, but only three clear of Juventus in third.

With the prospect of Europa League glory still very much alive – they face compatriots Roma in the quarter-finals – the campaign could yet end on a high note, although Pioli, who will be without the suspended Theo Hernandez, will not allow his players to get ahead of themselves.

He told a press conference: “A decisive period is about to begin. We’ll need to focus on playing the best football we can as we look to improve the level of our performances with two very important months in store.

“We have nine league matches remaining and we hope we’ll also be involved in five more Europa League fixtures. Every game will be important, starting from Fiorentina. They’re a team that have often caused us problems.

“It’s only normal to talk about the future when there’s an international break, but I’m focused on doing the best I can in the next 60 days so we can finish the season in the best way possible.

“Conclusions can only be drawn at the end, so we’ll take it one game at a time.”

Fiorentina have proved tricky opponents in recent seasons – in the last six league encounters, the sides have been separated by just one goal, and La Viola have won the last two games they have hosted.

Milan’s latest visit to Florence comes with the home team still mourning the loss of general manager Joe Barone, who collapsed and died at the age of 57 as the Fiorentina party prepared to leave the team hotel for their league clash with Atalanta earlier this month.

Pioli, whose side won the reverse fixture in November 1-0, said: “It’s not the first time that Fiorentina have experienced a complicated situation. Florence and the team’s fans are fantastic when there is a need to come together to overcome difficult moments like a bereavement.

“We expect a special atmosphere at the start in memory of a person who did so much for the club.”

Vincenzo Italiano’s side, who head into the weekend in eighth place and four points adrift of the top six, have not played since a 1-1 Europa Conference League draw with Maccabi Haifa on March 14 with the Atalanta game having been postponed after Barone was rushed to hospital.

Italiano said: “We need to restart and honour our director with all the things that were his: passion, love and attachment to this city, these colours and this club.”

Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored twice as AC Milan took control of their Europa League play-off against Rennes with a 3-0 victory in the first leg at San Siro.

Stefano Pioli’s men finished third in their Champions League group, but continue to build momentum on the back of just one defeat in 13 games now through all competitions.

Former Chelsea midfielder Loftus-Cheek put Milan in front in the 32nd minute with a glancing header and nodded home another at the start of the second half before Rafael Leao swiftly fired in a third, leaving the Italian giants within touching distance of a place in the last 16.

The Rossoneri almost took an early lead when Leao’s close-range effort struck the crossbar before Theo Hernandez blazed over from the edge of the penalty area following a corner.

Loftus-Cheek then burst down the right and cut the ball back to Yunus Musah, who sent his shot wide.

After soaking up plenty of early pressure, Rennes went close in the 21st minute when captain Benjamin Bourigeaud’s long-range effort flew just off target.

Milan broke the deadlock just after the half-hour when England international midfielder Loftus-Cheek guided a cushioned header into the bottom corner from Alessandro Florenzi’s floated cross for his fourth goal in five appearances.

The hosts – currently third in Serie A, a point behind Juventus – continued to press as Olivier Giroud’s low drive from the edge of the area was clawed away by Rennes goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

Rennes, who had been unbeaten in nine games, threatened on the counter when teenage winger Desire Doue drove forwards and drilled in a 20-yard effort, which was straight at Milan keeper Mike Maignan.

The French side fell further behind just two minutes into the second half when Loftus-Cheek nodded in from close range after Mandanda had palmed out a flicked header at the near post from Milan defender Simon Kjaer.

Before Rennes could look to regroup, Leao had fired in Milan’s third – his 50th goal for the club – after a neat exchange with Christian Pulisic down the right in the 53rd minute.

Rennes made a couple of changes to try to sharpen up the team and had a good spell of pressure heading into the final 20 minutes, with a low 22-yard drive from substitute Amine Gouiri testing Maignan.

Milan had a late chance to score a fourth when Pulisic broke down the left wing. The American’s shot was parried by Mandanda and then substitute Noah Okafor saw his follow-up hacked off the line by Rennes midfielder Azor Matusiwa.

Maignan saved again from Gouiri before Ludovic Blas fired over as Rennes were left with it all to do in next week’s second leg at Roazhon Park.

A double from Serbian striker Luka Jovic helped AC Milan to a 4-1 win over Cagliari and a place in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia.

Jovic struck twice in the first half of the contest at San Siro, while 19-year-old Chaka Traore was delighted to score his first Milan goal on his full debut early in the second half.

Paulo Azzi grabbed a consolation for Cagliari in the 87th minute but there was still time for substitute Rafael Leao to score a fourth for Milan, who have not won the competition for 20 years.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli retained only two players from the starting line-up for Saturday’s Serie A win over Sassuolo – Theo Hernandez and Tijjani Reijnders.

Cagliari are sitting in the relegation zone in Serie A but it was Claudio Ranieri’s side who created the first big chance inside four minutes, with Andrea Petagna’s close-range header from a corner drawing a fine reaction save from 40-year-old Antonio Mirante.

Four minutes later Jovic was through one on one with Boris Radunovic after a perfectly-timed pass from Yacine Adli but the keeper was equal to his shot.

Antoine Makoumbou was the next to threaten the Milan goal when Petagna pulled the ball back into the middle of the box but his tame effort was straight at the keeper.

The breakthrough for Milan came in the 29th minute, with Hernandez the creator, picking out Jovic on the right of the box with a fine ball from the left.

The striker managed to evade his marker with his first touch before tucking the ball under Radunovic.

Three minutes before half-time, the summer signing from Fiorentina made it two goals in a game for Milan for the first time.

Again the architect was Hernandez, who drove down the left, cut into the middle and slid in Jovic, whose shot from a tight angle squirmed under Radunovic and into the net.

Five minutes after half-time, the widest smile in Milan belonged to 19-year-old Traore as he bagged a first goal in red and black.

It was a scrappy goal, with Alex Jimenez’s ball in from the left half blocked, Samuel Chukwueze failing to connect with his attempted shot and then Traore turning and guiding the ball under Radunovic.

The keeper will feel he should have done better but that took nothing away from the joy of Traore, who was mobbed by his team-mates.

Pioli turned to his big guns with 20 minutes left, sending on Leao and Christian Pulisic.

The visitors found something to celebrate in the 87th minute, Azzi’s strike from 20 yards taking a deflection and beating Mirante, but Leao had the final say, curling the ball beyond Radunovic in stoppage time.

AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli will do his best to make amends for their disheartening Champions League exit by guiding the Rossoneri back into the competition through Serie A once again.

Milan are keen to get over the disappointment of their failure to progress to the knockout stages – Wednesday’s victory at Newcastle was only enough to secure third in their group and Europa League football – with a home win against Monza that will help them maintain their pursuit of second-placed Juventus, currently eight points clear.

Back-to-back league successes against Fiorentina and Frosinone were followed by a frustrating last-minute defeat at Atalanta last weekend and Pioli wants a response to both setbacks in Sunday’s lunchtime kick-off.

Pioli said at a press conference: “My big regret is that the team are not making the most of their potential right now, in Europe and in the league, so that’s what I must work on trying to change.

“This squad has so much potential, we created so many chances especially in the Champions League and lacked that bit of determination and quality. With that, we would have been here celebrating Champions League progress.

“Clearly, we can only now try to consolidate third place in Serie A and then try to do more. Our minimum objective is to qualify for the Champions League again, that is the very least we can aim for.”

Davide Calabria is suspended for the Monza clash after his dismissal in Bergamo so Theo Hernandez will be captain as Pioli tries to reckon with a defensive crisis.

Pierre Kalulu, Mattia Caldara, Marco Pellegrino and Malick Thiaw are all out injured, along with goalkeeper Marco Sportiello, and only one of academy product Jan-Carlo Simic and Simon Kjaer is likely to be fit enough to slot into the backline.

For Monza, Argentinian midfielder Alejandro Gomez is only two months into a two-year doping ban, with on-loan Torino defender Armando Izzo and Hellas Verona loan forward Gianluca Caprari among the key injury absentees.

Sunday’s visitors snapped a poor run of three games without a win by beating Genoa 1-0 last time out but away wins have been hard to come by so far for the mid-table side from the Stadio Brianteo.

Monza boss Raffaele Palladino said at his Saturday press conference: “We are satisfied so far but must keep our feet on the ground and improve on many aspects, such as being more effective in front of goal.

“Playing at San Siro is a source of pride. I believe Monza can do well and put Milan in difficulty. We are set up for this, to compete with anyone, anywhere. We must not be afraid of anybody.”

A first-half penalty from Theo Hernandez helped AC Milan return to winning ways in Serie A with a 1-0 victory over Fiorentina.

Stefano Pioli’s champions had not won in the division since October after home defeats to Juventus and Udinese were sandwiched between 2-2 draws on the road at Napoli and Lecce before the international break.

While it was far from vintage Milan, France defender Hernandez made the difference with his second goal of the season after he won and converted a spot-kick at the end of the first half to earn a much-needed three points.

History was made late in the victory when Pioli introduced 15-year-old Francesco Camarda for his debut, making him the youngest ever player to appear in Serie A.

Milan’s hopes of a first league win since October 7 were dented by the absence of the suspended Olivier Giroud and injured attacker Rafael Leao.

Christian Pulisic was back after a hamstring injury though and he forced Pietro Terracciano into action midway through a tense first half at the San Siro.

After chances had been few and far between, Milan started to take a stranglehold of the contest with Davide Calabria denied, but Fiorentina remained a threat.

Eight-goal hitman Nicolas Gonzalez fired wide before the break and the half looked destined to end goalless until Hernandez took matters into his own hand in stoppage-time.

Full-back Hernandez was fouled inside the area by Fabiano Parisi and was able to dust himself down to slot home from 12 yards and make it 1-0 to Milan.

Fiorentina boss Vincenzo Italiano had seen enough and introduced Maxime Lopez for Arthur at half-time.

 

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It had the desired effort with a string of opportunities created for Gonzalez, but a combination of Mike Maignan and the woodwork kept the hosts ahead.

Milan head coach Pioli brought off Pulisic on the hour mark after his prolonged absence, with ex-Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek brought on after his own recent return from injury.

And the chance to clinch the points arrived for the home side with 15 minutes left when Hernandez sent Luka Jovic clear, but Terracciano was equal to his effort.

Pioli sent on Camarda for Jovic in the 83rd minute and in the process made the 15-year-old the league’s youngest ever player, but Milan were indebted to a fine late save from Maignan to keep out Rolando Mandragora’s close-range effort and help his team end their four-match winless run in Serie A.

Milan pushed on in the battle for a top-four Serie A finish as Ismael Bennacer and Theo Hernandez scored in a 2-0 win over Lazio at San Siro.

Stefano Pioli's side were in full control from the off, though Lazio were masters of their own downfall for the opening goal as Marcos Antonio's error allowed Bennacer to bundle home. 

Hernandez doubled Milan's advantage before the break with a terrific solo effort, helping the Rossoneri to fourth in Serie A ahead of Inter's crucial clash with Roma later on Saturday. 

However, Milan's victory was marred by the sight of star forward Rafael Leao limping from the field early on, with the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie against Inter just four days away.

Having rested several players for Wednesday's draw with Cremonese, Pioli may have regretted naming a more familiar lineup when Leao was withdrawn just 11 minutes in – the forward appearing to suffer a groin injury.

Yet Milan made light of his absence as Bennacer pounced on a Lazio mix-up, combining with Olivier Giroud before volleying into the ground and over Ivan Provedel.

Milan doubled their lead from a lightning break 12 minutes later. Hernandez received the ball from Mike Maignan near his own penalty area before driving forward and lashing home from 20 yards via a slight deflection.

Lazio failed to record a single shot on target before the break, and Milan continued to dominate after the interval as substitute Malick Thiaw powered a header over from Sandro Tonali's corner. 

Milan were denied a late third when Ante Rebic slotted home from an offside position, but it was of little consequence as they warmed up for Wednesday's Champions League derby in style.

Josko Gvardiol won plenty of admirers during Croatia's run to the 2022 World Cup semi-finals.

The 21-year-old central defender is contracted until 2027, but has a hefty release clause that will become active in 2024.

As a result, clubs are likely to be competing to secure the Croatian's services in the next transfer window.

TOP STORY – CITY AND REAL PRIORITISE GVARDIOL SIGNING

Manchester City and Real Madrid have both made RB Leipzig defender Josko Gvardiol their priority centre-back target for the next transfer window, according to 90min.

The report claims Leipzig wants £75m (€85m) for the Croatian defender, who almost joined Chelsea last off-season.

City and Real are also both in contention to sign Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham, complicating the Gvardiol move.

The report also claims City are willing to offload Aymeric Laporte to help facilitate any move.

 

ROUND-UP

Liverpool are the favourites ahead of Manchester City in the race to sign Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount in the off-season, reports Football Insider.

Manchester United are keeping an eye on Joao Felix 's situation with the Atletico Madrid forward currently on loan at Chelsea, claims Mundo Deportivo. Chelsea have been linked with a permanent deal for the Portuguese.

– The Sun claims Leicester City are keen on re-signing Harry Maguire on loan from Manchester United amid talk he will exit Old Trafford.

Arsenal 's desire to land Dusan Vlahovic from Juventus could see the Gunners offer up Granit Xhaka and Nicolas Pepe as part of a deal, reports Calciomercatoweb.

– Fichajes claims Manchester City and Chelsea will battle it out to sign Milan full-back Theo Hernandez.

Barcelona have prioritised a move for Liverpool winger Luis Diaz in the next transfer window, according to Fichajes.

Milan saw their Serie A top-four hopes dealt a blow after Nicolas Gonzalez and Luka Jovic proved the difference in a 2-1 win for Fiorentina on Saturday.

Stefano Pioli's side had reeled off three straight league wins but came unstuck at Stadio Artemio Franchi with an underwhelming display.

Gonzalez's 49th-minute penalty was no less than Vincenzo Italiano's hosts deserved before substitute Jovic put the game beyond Milan, despite Theo Hernandez's stoppage-time strike.

Defeat left Pioli's men 18 points adrift of runaway leaders Napoli and looking over their shoulders at fifth-placed Roma, who could move level with victory against Juventus on Sunday.

Fiorentina were unable to reap the rewards of their first-half dominance against a Milan defence that had not conceded since February 5.

Giacomo Bonaventura was a constant threat against his former side, with Mike Maignan pushing away his free-kick and Fikayo Tomori clearing the midfielder's bobbling close-range finish off the line.

Milan offered little in response yet Pietro Terracciano still had to be alert to thwart Olivier Giroud's inventive left-footed volley.

Fiorentina's pressure told after the interval, though. Tomori dragged down Jonathan Ikone inside the area and Gonzalez rolled into the bottom-right corner from 12 yards.

An apparent Arthur Cabral handball seemed to offer Milan late hope, but the referee overturned his original penalty decision.

Jovic then headed in from Dodo's right-wing cross soon after, rendering Hernandez's subsequent thumping left-footed effort a mere consolation in a disappointing Milan defeat.

Stefano Pioli hailed the return of "leaders" Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mike Maignan after both players made their comeback in Milan's 2-0 win over Atalanta on Sunday.

Ibrahimovic was brought on in the second half for his first appearance since May 2022 when undergoing surgery on his knee that many thought would end his career.

Goalkeeper Maignan was back between the sticks for the first time since sustaining an injury of his own in September, meanwhile, and marked his return with a clean sheet.

The pair coming back into the fold coincides with Milan's best run of form this season, having now won four games in a row in all competitions, and Pioli is delighted to be back to full strength.

"Mike and Zlatan are not only two excellent players, but also two leaders of the team," Pioli, who was taking charge of his 800th career game as a coach, told DAZN. 

"Having them on the pitch helps us a lot. Now we must think about the next match. We will have players absent for that game but will still put in a good performance."

At 41 years and 146 days, Ibrahimovic overtook Alessandro Costacurta (41y, 25d) as Milan's oldest player in Serie A in the three-points-per-win era (1993-94 season).

The veteran striker only had 14 touches of the ball in his 16 minutes in action and did not manage a shot, but Milan's second goal arrived with him on the field.

Junior Messias clipped the ball over Juan Musso, who had earlier scored an unfortunate own goal when Theo Hernandez's 25-yard volley hit the post and went in off his body.

It was a brilliant strike from Hernandez after Olivier Giroud had nodded the ball into his path, and the wing-back believes he should be credited with the goal himself.

"I consider it my goal," he said. "I'm going to count it as mine. Thanks also to Oli for knocking it down for me. It was a good goal.

"It's true that we went through a difficult time, but with this victory we are getting back to being the Milan we were before."

 

Milan have now won four games without conceding in all competitions for the first time since February 2018, with their latest victory moving them level with second-place Inter.

The Rossoneri wasted a number of good chances with the game at 1-0, but Atalanta failed to offer any sort of attacking threat.

Indeed, they had only three attempts all match – their lowest tally since April 2013 – and did not test the returning Maignan on a single occasion.

"We gave our all and tried everything, but Milan were superior on the night and we must learn from these games to focus on the next one," Gian Piero Gasperini said. 

"What we saw tonight was that despite our best efforts, it is evident Milan simply had more than we did."

The only blemish for Milan is that Rafael Leao – who set up Messias' goal – and Rade Krunic will miss next week's trip to Fiorentina after being booked for the fifth time this term.

Milan defeated Atalanta 2-0 at San Siro to move level on points with second-place Inter in a match that saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic make his first appearance in nine months.

Inter's surprise 1-0 loss to Bologna earlier on Sunday opened the door for Milan to pounce and they took full advantage on home soil with a fourth win in a row in all competitions.

Juan Musso's 25th-minute own goal – after Theo Hernandez's long-range volley hit the frame of goal and went in off the goalkeeper's back – put Stefano Pioli's side on their way.

The hosts, who also had fit-again keeper Mike Maignan back in their side for the first time since September, added a deserved second through Junior Messias late on following the long-awaited return of Ibrahimovic.

There was a slice of fortune involved in Milan's opener as Hernandez's sublime strike from 25 yards was helped over the line by Musso after the ball had hit the post.

Rafael Leao clipped the side-netting, fired over from a glorious position and was then denied by a fine Musso save as Milan struggled to make their superiority truly show.

Messias was the next Milan player to fire off target with plenty of the goal to aim for, with that proving to be the moment Pioli turned to Ibrahimovic.

The home side finally killed off the contest through Messias' clipped finish over Musso four minutes from time after being played through on goal by Leao.

Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe may have faced off against one another in the World Cup final in Qatar, but they line up in the same XI in FIFA 23's Team of the Year.

While Mbappe scored a hat-trick in the tournament's showpiece match, it was Messi's Argentina who lifted the World Cup for a third time with a penalty shoot-out victory following a 3-3 draw after extra-time.

The Paris Saint-Germain team-mates have both made FIFA 23's Team of the Year, though, with the selections made from over 10 million votes from fans.

Despite Argentina's World Cup win, Messi is the only player from Lionel Scaloni's team to be included, with Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema completing the front three after scoring 44 goals in 46 matches in the 2021-22 season to help Real Madrid to a LaLiga title and Champions League win.

Kevin De Bruyne finished third in the Ballon d'Or rankings and is part of the midfield, alongside the evergreen Madrid star Luka Modric and Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham, with the latter playing a key role for England at the World Cup at the age of just 19.

The Madrid theme running through the line-up continues at the back, with Thibaut Courtois between in goal and Eder Militao at the heart of the defence.

Virgil van Dijk joins Militao, while Theo Hernandez and Achraf Hakimi, who enjoyed excellent World Cups with France and Morocco respectively, fill the full-back roles.

Milan "have to be a little more ambitious" and aim to win more than just the Serie A title, according to director and club legend Paolo Maldini.

The Rossoneri won the Scudetto last season for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign after beating Sassuolo 3-0 on the final day, wrestling the trophy back from city rivals Inter.

Milan's attempts to lift the Serie A trophy for a second straight season have seen them win 10 of their opening 15 matches.

Yet despite sitting second in the table, leaders Napoli are yet to lose a game and already hold an eight-point lead over Stefano Pioli's men.

Milan have fared well in Europe, though, making it into the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

Maldini, who won seven Serie A titles and five Champions League trophies with the Rossoneri as a player, feels they should be looking for continental success to add to their domestic triumph of last term.

Maldini told MilanTV: "The match played in Sassuolo [to clinch the title on the final day] ended a three-year period that started in 2019 with a very specific project, which did not envisage the victory of the Scudetto, but envisaged the return to be competitive.

"Of course, we're talking about Milan, and we can't be satisfied with having won a Scudetto, we have to be a little more ambitious.

"We can and must be protagonists in the four competitions that remain to us, because little by little, they will be very intense months."

The World Cup has seen several Milan players undertake a starring role for their national teams in Qatar. France duo Theo Hernandez and Olivier Giroud are set to play in Sunday's final against Argentina.

Hernandez scored in the semi-final victory over Morocco and Giroud has become Les Bleus' all-time leading marksman, while winger Rafael Leao also netted twice for Portugal.

"Rafa [Leao] did his part," Maldini added. "Two goals in a World Cup is no small thing. Unfortunately, he didn't play much, but I think it was still a good and high-level experience for him. 

"Olivier and Theo have been stars since the beginning. I must say that we are proud to see them in the starting line-up having reached the final of a World Cup."

Milan return to competitive action on January 4, when they take on Salernitana in Serie A.

Theo Hernandez defiantly stated Lionel Messi does not scare France, while Olivier Giroud is intent on denying the Argentina legend a dream World Cup swansong in Sunday's final.

Les Bleus are on the cusp of defending the title they won in Russia four years ago after a workmanlike 2-0 victory over Morocco in Wednesday's second semi-final.

The showpiece fixture will be Messi's final World Cup game and, at least for the football romantics, would be seen as a fitting send-off for one of the all-time greats.

But France will have little time for sentiment as they aim to be crowned world champions for the third time and Milan full-back Hernandez said Les Bleus are not fearful of Argentina's talisman – who was star of the show in La Albiceleste's own last-four triumph over Croatia.

"Now we must think about the final, I am tired but it's so good to win a World Cup semi-final," Hernandez said in quotes reported by Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Now we must recover for Sunday, we are not scared of Messi, but Argentina are an incredible team and we have a few days to work."

Giroud, who during the tournament has become France's all-time leading goalscorer, was part of the side that defeated Argentina 4-3 in the round of 16 at Russia 2018.

In that game, N'Golo Kante – missing in Qatar through injury – was tasked with a man-marking job on Messi, whose five goals at this tournament are matched only by Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe.

Giroud gave little away as to whether a similar tactic will be employed but said the whole collective will do their part to deny Messi the biggest prize of his illustrious career.

"Messi is an incredible player, but we are not going to let him enjoy the best night he can have," he said.

"We want to win this game. We want to win another World Cup – and we will try everything to stop him. 

"But there is not only Messi in that team. They have got great players who work for the team also. I think that is why they are so strong.

"I don't know if we need a special plan. I remember back in the days of 2018, N'Golo was all the game on his back, behind him. But this time I don't know what will be the plan. We will see with the manager."

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