(Reuters) -AC Milan squandered the chance to secure a long-awaited return to the Champions League as goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma came to their rescue in a 0-0 Serie A draw at home to Cagliari on Sunday.
Victory over the 16th-placed Sardinians would have assured Milan of a top-four finish and their first appearance in European football's top club competition since 2013-14 next season.
But Stefano Pioli's side toiled to a disappointing draw that leaves them third on 76 points going into the final round, level with Napoli in fourth but above them on head-to-head record, and one point ahead of fifth-placed Juventus.
The hosts were limited to speculative long-range efforts in the first half and risked going behind after the break, but Donnarumma produced top saves to deny Leonardo Pavoletti and Diego Godin headers.
Cagliari, on 37 points, celebrated the security of their Serie A status before kick-off after 18th-placed Benevento drew with Crotone.
Milan travel to second-placed Atalanta for their final game of the season next Sunday, while Napoli host 10th-placed Hellas Verona and Juventus go to Bologna, who are 11th.
The hosts were without injured top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic but came into the game in good form after comfortably beating Torino and Juventus over the last week.
They received another boost when Benevento’s draw with Crotone meant Cagliari’s safety was secured and the visitors would not be fighting for their lives at San Siro.
But Milan put in a sluggish display and created few chances of note. Alexis Saelemaekers' driven shot required a smart save from Alessio Cragno and Davide Calabria drilled a long-range effort wide in the first half.
Donnarumma kept the score level after the break, using his legs to block a Pavoletti header from six yards before flying to his right to claw away Godin’s headed effort with his right hand.
Pioli turned to his bench to try and find a spark and Samu Castillejo was the liveliest of the replacements. However, the Spaniard, like his team mates, struggled for accuracy as he was off target with two efforts before a stoppage-time volley was deflected over off Godin's head.
(Reporting by Alasdair MackenzieEditing by Christian Radnedge)