Milan head coach Stefano Pioli praised the progress made by the Rossoneri this season and insisted his side did not deserve to lose to Manchester United in their Europa League last-16 tie. (More Football News)
Milan snatched a late 1-1 draw in last week's opening leg against United and looked the more likely scorers in the first half of Thursday's return fixture at San Siro, where the Italian hosts eventually fell 1-0.
Paul Pogba's strike three minutes after being introduced at the interval proved the difference as United advanced past Milan 2-1 on aggregate.
There was very little between the sides on the night, with possession split almost exactly down the middle and both teams managing four attempts each on target.
But Pioli, who saw Franck Kessie have a goal controversially ruled out in the first leg, believes Milan deserved more over the course of the 180 minutes.
"It's an elimination that really disappoints us, because over the two legs we played like a great team and should've scored in the first half," he told Sky Sport Italia.
"It's a pity because we did so much to get here and the team deserved to continue, but we had to give it a little bit more. I don't think we deserved to go out.
"We're talking about a United side that reached the Europa League semis last season, was in the Champions league group phase this term and beat Man City two weeks ago."
He added: "Looking back over the Kessie goal feels like seeking justification, but even the overall performance there we had was superior.
"As for tonight, Manchester United kept more of the ball, but they pretty much never threatened."
Pogba, making his return from a 10-game injury lay-off, flicked in a loose ball for Thursday's defining moment to make it 13 away matches without defeat for United.
The Frenchman has now scored in his last two away games against Milan, having also netted against them during his time at Juventus in April 2016, and Pioli accepted his side could have done more to prevent the goal.
"Over the two legs, we did so much right, but the two goals we conceded were more down to our own errors than their credit, that's what is disappointing," he said.
"It becomes difficult for me to reproach my lads after two performances with heart, spirit, determination, courage and quality.
"There were errors earlier, too. We shouldn't have allowed Bruno Fernandes to get the ball back, we shouldn't have left Pogba unmarked from six yards out. There were a lot of situations that didn't work."
Milan's campaign is at risk of collapse following a run of one win in nine matches in all competitions, including back-to-back 1-0 losses at San Siro.
2 - Man Utd have progressed from each of their last two knockout ties with Milan in European competition, having been eliminated in each of the four ties beforehand (European Cup in 1957-58/1968-69 & Champions League in 2004-05/2006-07). Edged. pic.twitter.com/OLPDDMhfY7— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 18, 2021
The Rossoneri have slipped nine points behind Serie A leaders and city rivals Inter, who also eliminated them from the Coppa Italia in January, but Pioli is confident his young squad can bring the good times back to the club.
"On the one hand, I was sad about being drawn with United, but on the other I was pleased to measure ourselves up against a side that invested so much money in recent years aiming to win the Champions League," he said.
"Seeing the performances over the two legs, I think we're very close to that level. Milan in not the best circumstances because of injuries proved that we belong here.
"I appreciated what Simon Kjaer said yesterday: we are young and that mustn't be an alibi. We've grown a lot over the last year and a half, these two performances prove that, but it will also help us continue to grow for the future.
"We knew that we would have a tough season, as the top seven clubs in Serie A are very strong.
"The fact we're still in the race for that Champions League spot shows how far we've come and now we want to play the final 11 games with a great spirit. It's not an easy target to achieve, but we know that we’ve got what it takes."
Milan have now lost five of their last six home games against English teams in European competition, after going unbeaten in each of their first 13 such matches (W8 D5).