Ibrahimovic makes history as AC Milan edge Fiorentina thriller

Soccer Football - Serie A - Fiorentina v AC Milan - Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence, Italy - March 21, 2021 AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic reacts REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini

(Reuters) - Zlatan Ibrahimovic marked his return to the AC Milan starting line-up with a goal in a thrilling 3-2 win at Fiorentina on Sunday, narrowing the gap to Serie A leaders Inter to six points.

The strike made him the oldest player to score 15 goals in a Serie A season, at 39 years and 169 days, and sounded the starting gun to a frantic encounter in Florence.

The Swede needed only nine minutes to fire home the opener after springing the offside trap in his first league appearance since picking up a muscle injury against AS Roma on Feb. 28.

Erick Pulgar and Franck Ribery struck either side of the break to put the hosts in front, but goals from Brahim Diaz and Hakan Calhanoglu swung the contest back in Milan’s favour.

"The more time passes, the younger I feel," Ibrahimovic told Sky Italia.

"After a defeat and going out of the Europa League, the league title is what remains. We wanted to win at all costs, we showed character and need to continue like this."

Milan moved up to 59 points in second place, six behind Inter, but the league leaders have a game in hand after their match against Sassuolo was postponed following a cluster of positive tests for COVID-19.

Fiorentina remain 14th with 29 points, seven clear of the relegation zone.

Milan manager Stefano Pioli challenged his side to win their remaining 11 league games after they were eliminated from the Europa League by Manchester United on Thursday.

They got off to the perfect start when Ibrahimovic latched on to a ball over the top of the defence to fire in, but the Viola were soon level through a curling Pulgar free kick.

Fiorentina captain German Pezzella came close to a sensational goal when his backheel volley rebounded off the bar, before Ibrahimovic’s dinked finish also struck the woodwork.

The hosts went ahead early in the second half when Ribery fired home, but Diaz levelled six minutes later when he latched on to a knock-down from a corner to finish from close range.

Calhanoglu completed the comeback with a well-placed finish into the bottom corner, and Milan held out for their 12th away win of the season in Serie A, a joint record for the club despite still having five more away games to come.

(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; editing by Clare Fallon)

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