Football: Milan close in on Champs League with Pescara rout

A Mario Balotelli brace and one apiece from Sulley Muntari and Mathieu Flamini put AC Milan within sight of Champions League football next season thanks to a 4-0 rout of already-relegated Pescara on Wednesday.

Milan started the match knowing that three points would reinforce their grip on third place, which offers a qualifying round place in Europe's premier club competition.

Any fears of an upset were quickly stifled, Milan starting strongly and dominating throughout to secure a 20th win of the season that leaves them seven points ahead of Fiorentina with two games remaining.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri, however, said: "We only have two games left now and it's up to us to protect this lead.

"But we all know that anything can happen in football. We have to stay focused."

Fiorentina can bring the deficit back to four points later Wednesday when they travel to Siena, although defeat would consign Vincenzo Montella's team to a fight for Europa League qualification.

Balotelli set the tone for what was a one-sided performance on the sunny Adriatic coast by smacking the crossbar in the second minute.

The former Manchester City man put the visitors ahead shortly after from the penalty spot after Antonio Nocerino had been fouled by Serbian defender Uros Cosic.

It was Balotelli's 10th goal in 11 appearances following his January signing and marked a personal best in Serie A for the former Inter Milan striker.

Milan were being given free rein and French teenager M'Baye Niang twice came close, forcing a one-handed save from Mattia Perrin and then shaving the goalkeeper's post with a rasping, angled drive.

Pescara, whose return to Serie B was confirmed last weekend, were offering little in attack and their defence was found sorely wanting as Milan scored their second shortly after the half hour.

Robinho sent a long cross over from the right wing and Ghanaian midfielder Muntari was allowed time and space to run in and send a bouncing effort over the head of Perrin.

Milan resumed in positive fashion after the break and were soon 3-0 up.

Flamini was given another rare start by Allegri following his goal-scoring exploits in a 4-2 win over Catania two weeks ago, and when Robinho pounced on a blunder by defender Luciano Zauri, the Frenchman was on hand to slot the Brazilian's pass into the net.

Minutes later Balotelli took his season's tally to 11 when he collected Flamini's smart pass in the area, held off his marker and swivelled to beat Perrin with a shot that slammed into the roof of the net.

Giampaolo Pazzini replaced Niang on 64 minutes and the veteran striker spurned a great chance to make it five when he shot straight at Perrin when well placed.

Shortly after, Stephan El Shaarawy, making a rare start on the bench, replaced Robinho and came close to scoring almost immediately but was bundled off the ball as he shot.