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The Archive

May 2003

Milan party rages on
31.5 || scharatz

The San Siro is the stage of a massive Milan party as Carlo Ancelotti and his players celebrate a stunning campaign.

The Coppa Italia was almost snatched from their hands tonight after Roma’s 2-2 draw, but the 4-1 first leg win was enough to seal their first trophy since 1977.

“We knew it would be tough as Roma are a great side,” noted Ancelotti. “The first leg advantage was sizeable, but was always in the balance.”

The Rossoneri have only won the Coppa five times and never under the guidance of patron Silvio Berlusconi.

“We struggled and wanted to dedicate this to President Berlusconi, as along with the UEFA Cup it is the only trophy he has never picked up in his time at the club. He made us promise before the season began that we’d make a real go of this competition.”

However, the real party was for Wednesday’s Old Trafford victory over Juventus on a penalty shoot-out.

“The joy for this Champions’ League victory is far too immense,” concluded the Coach, “and we are more than willing to make sacrifices in order to get here.”

Gennaro Gattuso was perhaps man of the match in Manchester and received a standing ovation at the San Siro.

“I can’t find words for the season I have had,” said the midfielder. “My nature makes me work from morning till night every single day and I hope to continue this trend for many years to come.”

Pippo Inzaghi’s stoppage-time strike ensured the game ended 2-2, but he suffered a thigh strain during his celebrations.

“I already had pain in this leg during the Champions’ League Final, but I had to carry on as there were no strikers left. I think I’ve really damaged it.”

“But this season is beyond my wildest dreams with two trophies and 30 goals. I want to celebrate it to the full.”

Manuel Rui Costa already won the Coppa Italia with Fiorentina and is celebrating once more.

“The whole team worked very hard and wanted to finish the season in style,” said the Portuguese international. “We achieved that and this has been just an extraordinary year.”

Captain Paolo Maldini has lifted two trophies in the space of three days and is sure he doesn’t want to stop this trend.

“This is a great competition and to lift it so soon after the Champions’ League is the best possible way to end the season.”

80,000 fans packed into the San Siro to see the two Cups paraded around the Stadium.

“Once we won the European Cup,” continued Maldini, “we knew this would be a party. This year we have beaten all records for attendance at the San Siro and kept the fans happy.”

Vice-President Adriano Galliani agreed that this season has been like a fairy tale.

“Nobody could write a better script than this as the story was just perfect. It was the only Cup we were missing and desperately wanted it to close the campaign.”

Roma were understandably downbeat after ending the match with red cards for Antonio Cassano and Francesco Totti.

“It was a great performance and we frankly deserved to win,” commented Fabio Capello. “It was a shame to end the game in nine men, but this season we can’t play on level terms with anyone.”

The Giallorossi perhaps knew that the 4-1 first leg deficit could not be overturned, but gave Milan a run for their money.

“We came here with the intention of winning the game. Cassano’s red card came at a bad time as we were doing really well, while Totti’s send off was a little over the top.”

Nonetheless, Roma qualify for the UEFA Cup as runners-up, because Milan enter the Champions’ League.

“We showed tonight that this is a great team that can play against anyone, but as usual couldn’t win.”

MILAN COMPLETE THE DOUBLE
31.5 || scharatz

80,000 Milan fans witnessed the Coppa Italia victory, but it was a chaotic 2-2 Final draw against nine-man Roma.

There was a party atmosphere inside the packed out stadium as the 4-1 first leg win in Rome meant the Giallorossi needed a 4-0 win to take the Cup.

Marcos Cafu, Massimo Ambrosini and Christian Brocchi were suspended, but most of the star players started just three days after their Champions’ League triumph.

Captain Paolo Maldini returned to his old left-back position, while Gennaro Gattuso received a standing ovation at his every challenge.

Francesco Totti opened the scoring in the first leg with a spectacular free kick and tried to repeat the trick after eight minutes, but Christian Abbiati managed to palm it over.

On the resulting corner kick Walter Samuel turned a free header wide of the far post. Roma took Milan by surprise with a quickly taken free kick, but Totti’s goal was disallowed as the referee had not authorised the start of play.

Fabio Capello’s men were desperate to make up for the humiliation of their last encounter and Abbiati rushed off his line to clear off the feet of Antonio Cassano.

Clarence Seedorf had Milan’s best early chance on a Rivaldo centre, but the Dutchman chested down and volleyed over the bar.

Abbiati has been benchwarming for most of the season, but performed a spectacular reaction save on Totti after a lucky ricochet put him through on goal.

The Roma captain was extremely tense and reacted badly to several fouls, eventually earning a yellow card just before the break for a tussle with Fernando Redondo.

Unfortunately the party atmosphere was marred at half-time when the Roma fans began to fight amongst themselves.

The Tifosi were cheered somewhat by Totti’s opener, a simply magnificent free kick from 25 metres that slotted in-between Abbiati’s fingertips and the near post. The Italian international had scored a similar set-piece in the first leg.

The tension remained high and Jonathan Zebina was booked for a very late challenge from behind on Alessandro Nesta, while scuffles were continually breaking out on the field.

If Totti’s first free kick was fantastic, then the second eight minutes later was simply spectacular. A powerful rocket into the top corner from 30 metres went in off the crossbar to give Abbiati no chance.

However, moments later Milan pulled one back with a Rivaldo free header on Serginho’s cross.

Cassano was not particularly impressive throughout the game and lost his nerve after Milan’s goal.

He twice turned to scream insults at the referee after not receiving a free kick and a red card was inevitable. The 20-year-old took his anger out on the advertising boards and players’ tunnel.

The Rossoneri almost netted an equaliser when Serginho and Rui Costa combined, but Samuel recovered before it could reach Inzaghi.

Roma would take the tie to extra time with another two goals and moments later Marco Delvecchio’s header clipped the crossbar with Abbiati beaten.

But the nerves got the better of them and Totti received a second yellow card for a late challenge on Rivaldo, leaving Roma in nine men for the final minutes.

Inzaghi was desperate to get a goal to close this memorable season and achieved that aim in stoppage time. He gathered a Rivaldo through ball and swept home a curling finish from just inside the box.

SuperPippo celebrated a bit too much and limped off with what appears to be a thigh strain.



Milan 2-2 Roma

Scorers: Totti 55, 63 (R), Rivaldo 64 (M), Inzaghi 93 (M)

Sent off: Cassano s/o 70 (R), Totti s/o 86 (R)

Milan win the Coppa Italia 6-3 on aggregate

Milan: Abbiati; Simic (Helveg 82), Nesta, Laursen, Maldini; Gattuso (Kaladze 88), Redondo, Seedorf (Rui Costa 60); Serginho, Rivaldo; Inzaghi

Roma: Pelizzoli; Zebina, Samuel, Panucci; Candela (Fuser 85), Tommasi (Delvecchio 53), Emerson, Dacourt (De Rossi 78), Lima; Cassano, Totti

Ref: Rosetti


Coppa Final: AC Milan vs AS Roma - preview
31.5 || scharatz

The second leg of the Coppa Italia final, which takes place on Saturday night in San Siro, features a clash between two teams in a completely opposite state of mind.

Boosted by the midweek Champions League triumph against Juventus and by the impressive 4-1 away win of the first leg match, the Rossoneri are expected to have little problems in lifting their second trophy in four days, and celebrate an unforgettable season in front of a sold-out stadium.

On the other side of the pitch, Ancelotti's men will find a team almost in disarray. Roma have experienced one of the worst seasons of their recent history, and now that the lone chance to win something is fading away the relation between chairman Sensi and coach Capello is way less solid than it used to be.

The former Real Madrid trainer believes in a comeback that looks almost impossible, at least on paper, but it will be very hard for the Giallorossi to spoil Milan's party.


TEAM NEWS
Despite the midweek Champions League final and the huge advantage of the first leg match, Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti is expected to field a very competitive lineup. Pippo Inzaghi will be the lone striker, supported by a 3-men offensive line featuring Seedorf, Rivaldo and Serginho. Redondo will pair up Gattuso in the middle, while Laursen should replace Nesta.

Roma will miss suspended Cafu and injured Montella, Antonioli, Sartor and Marazzina. Lima will replace the Brazilian right wing-back, while Cassano is expected to pair up Totti on the offensive line. Defender Panucci is bothered by a muscular problem, but Capello should field him in the starting eleven.

PROBABLE LINEUPS
MILAN (4-2-3-1): Abbiati; Simic, Laursen, Maldini, Helveg; Gattuso, Redondo; Seedorf, Rivaldo, Serginho; Inzaghi.

ROMA (3-5-2): Pelizzoli; Zebina, Samuel, Panucci; Lima, Dacourt, Emerson, Tommasi, Candela; Totti, Cassano.

Dida: I proved I belong at Milan
31.5 || scharatz

Nelson Dida was once a figure of fun for Milan fans, but his heroics in the Champions’ League have changed all that.

“I have been with this club for three years,” explained the Brazilian, “but I feel as if this is the first real season. I was given the chance to show I am a professional who can keep his cool.”

The goalkeeper is best remembered for his clanger against Leeds United, but proved decisive in Wednesday’s European Final as he saved three out of five Juventus spot-kicks.

“It is not me who made the difference,” he assured. “The whole team will enter the history books.”

It was not a new experience for the 30-year-old, as he already won a penalty shoot-out with Corinthians for the 1999 World Club Championship.

“Before the penalties at Old Trafford all my teammates came over to charge me up. Christian Abbiati was invaluable as he told me how all the Juve players usually take their kicks.”

The two goalkeepers are rivals for a starting place, but have become firm friends over the season.

“After he had explained everything, Abbiati told me to do what I felt like doing. He said I shouldn’t worry as I would do better with my own instinct.”

Dida also has a World Cup winners’ medal from 2002, but didn’t play a single minute of football in Japan and Korea.

“It doesn’t matter,” he claims, “as the whole team felt responsible for that victory. There is a new Coach at Brazil now and I dream of being a first choice ‘keeper for my country.”

On the strength of his performances for Milan this season, that dream could become reality very soon.

Joyful Milan target second trophy
31.5 || Seamus

AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini has spoken of his "joy" at returning to Italy with the European Champion Clubs' Cup as the Rossoneri look ahead to a second cup final in four days.

Flying the flag
The new European champions touched down at Milan's Malpensa airport early yesterday evening, some 48 hours before they face AS Roma in the second leg of the Italian Cup final. With a Milan flag hanging from the cockpit window and stewardesses waiting on the ground with bouquets of flowers, the Milan players emerged to a rapturous reception from the hundreds of fans assembled at the airport.


'Honour and joy'
Maldini, who was wearing beneath his jacket a white T-shirt with the words Manchester, Old Trafford and 28 May 2003, said: "It's an honour and a joy to come back with the cup. This triumph is special for me as it's the first European Cup I've held as captain. It's wonderful to be back on top in Europe." Maldini has now won four European Cups with the Rossoneri.

Roma await
Milan face Roma at the San Siro on Saturday evening clear favourites to claim their second piece of silverware of the season after a 4-1 win in the first leg on 20 May. Playmaker Rui Costa told the club's TV station, Milan Channel: "We won't stop here, on Saturday we want to put on a great performance and win a second trophy. This way we can celebrate with all our fans and with both trophies in our hands."

Shevchenko honoured with Ukraine's top sporting award
30.5 || Seamus

AC Milan's Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko has been approved for his country's highest sporting accolade today at the session of State Commission of Ukrainian Sports.

The Merited Master of Sports, is a legacy of the Soviet era is awarded only to the best of the country's athletes and was last conferred upon the European Cup Winners' Cup winning Dynamo Kiev team of 1986.

Commission members overwhelmingly approved State commission of Physical Fitness and Sports head Mykola Kostenko's proposition of awarding the player this high distinction due to his outstanding achievements in his sport.

Despite never winning a single trophy with either his country or current club till a few days ago, Sheva always excelled for both. He has always been on the score-sheet for his national team and followed up his outstanding performances for Dynamo Kiev with 48 goals in 64 games for AC Milan. His form dipped due to injury, but he said this week that "all was forgotten and forgiven" after he scored the crucial away goal that took Milan to the CL Final and then scored the winning penalty to crown them Champions.

On Saturday, Shevchenko will get a chance to pick up more silverware, when Milan take on AS Roma in the Italian Cup final, leading 4-1 from the away leg. As usual, Sheva contributed with a delightful chip.

Galliani praises Juve and Inter
30.5 || Seamus

Milan supremo and Italian League President Adriano Galliani has gone on record to praise rivals Inter and Juve, reserving special praise for the latter.

The Italian media tried to extract comments mocking Juve's loss, but the man often referred to as "The Shark" refused to take anything away from the Bianconeri.

"In football everything can change within few minutes, I do not consider myself better than Juventus officials because Dida parried one penalty more than Buffon. There is actually just one spot-kick of difference between Juventus and Milan. Honours to our opposition, who had an extraordinary season. Both Giraudo and Moggi immediately congratulated me: they behaved like real gentlemen."

When asked if he felt that Juve's Scudetto had been tarnished by this loss and if he felt Inter had failed again, he said:

"We did better than Juventus in the first half but at the end there was one save of difference between the two sides. So we can't speak of failure or triumph for both clubs. We do not educate people in this way, I would have said it even if we had lost: it is not possible that a save can radically change the opinion of a team's campaign. Milan had a great season just like Juventus and Inter who were second in the domestic league and third in the European competition. Our judgements should be considered more carefully."

These comments come as great examples of leadership after many people (most notably, Roma President Franco Sensi) have accused Galliani of being biased towards Milan.

Jose Mari confirms Milan return
30.5 || Seamus

Atletico Madrid striker Jose Mari has confirmed that he will return to Milan at the end of the season.

The Spaniard, who has spent the whole campaign on loan at the Vicente Calderon, said "I knew that there was a possibility I wouldn't be staying here when I signed.

"I will be returning to Milan, though I don't know what plans they have for me next season.

"It won't disrupt my life. I'm happy I came here and don't have regrets."

Galliani again confirms they'll be one major swoop
30.5 || Seamus

Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani has confirmed that the club will sign one major player this summer.

"All of the players here will remain," he said. "We don't want to get rid of anyone and we want to make it clear to all of our squad that they are important to us.

"There will be an important addition. Don't ask me who or where they play. But I have one player in mind."

Victory eases Ancelotti pain
30.5 || scharatz

Carlo Ancelotti says Milan’s Champions’ League win has made up for his many Coaching disappointments.

The tactician has had a ‘loser’ tag in recent seasons after two Serie A second place finishes with Juventus and one with Parma.

"I’m delighted because we have achieved an important objective, one which repays me for the set-backs I’ve suffered in my career," he said.

"Now we must continue working on the project which we started last summer and this victory makes that a lot easier."

Ancelotti also had words of praise for former club Juventus who Milan beat on Wednesday to lift the European Cup.

"I consoled them after the game because that was the right thing to do," he added. "Juventus are a team that knows how to win and lose with honour."

Juventus midfielder Alessio Tacchinardi was obviously disappointed with the defeat but was glad that his former boss Ancelotti finally had something to cheer about.

"The only positive is that he won because I’m very attached to him after what he did for me here," said the Italian international. "He’s finally been able to get rid of the loser label."

Mixed emotions from Manchester
30.5 || Seamus

The morning after the night before, and you could be forgiven for still wondering what it will take to separate AC Milan and Juventus FC, the UEFA Champions League finalists who slugged it out for 120 minutes at Old Trafford without producing a goal.

Hero of Manchester
The Gazzetta dello Sport has the answer: "Penalty takers in Serginho, [Alessandro] Nesta and [Andriy] Shevchenko, plus Dida, the hero of Manchester." Goalkeeper Dida made saves from David Trezeguet, Marcelo Zalayeta and Paolo Montero to hand Milan a 3-2 shoot-out victory - and a sixth European Champion Clubs' Cup.

Dida delight
The Brazilian, the Gazzetta noted, may struggle to talk in Italian but his smile spoke volumes as he said: "I tried not to move too much because in these situations the ball tends to go towards the centre of the goal. I did well and I am happy."

Man of the match
No less impressed were the rival Il Giornale and Corriere della Sera newspapers who made Dida their man of the match. But that accolade had to be shared between the custodian and team-mate Shevchenko, scorer of the winning penalty, in the Corriere dello Sport, Tuttosport and La Repubblica.

Milan kings of Europe, Juve bowed

Corriere della Sera


Kings of Europe
By contrast, Gianluigi Buffon cut "a disconsolate figure", the Gazzetta said. "They had more penalty takers in their five and they were a bit more accurate than we were," the Juve No1 remarked. The result, as expressed on the front-page headline of the Corriere della Sera: "Milan kings of Europe, Juve bowed".

Disallowed goal
According to La Stampa, however, this was no glory night for the Italian game. "It was the match we feared," the paper said. "It needed an early goal but the referee disallowed [Shevchenko's effort] for offside."

Ancelotti the winner
And with Juventus missing first the suspended Nedved, then the injured Edgar Davids, it came down to the dreaded lottery - "eleven metres divided the champions of Europe from the champions of Italy". "Carlo Ancelotti," the Turin-based paper continued, "is no longer second best. He beat Lippi, without exactly beating him, but that's life."

Forgettable stuff
So Ancelotti shed his loser's tag, but it was not enough to win over an unsympathetic Spanish audience. "In England, the cradle of the game, the two Italian sides participated in a crime against football," wrote AS. Meanwhile, Marca said that "an acceptable first half segued into a forgettable second half", before an extra-time period that "was unbearable".

On the defence
The English Daily Telegraph was more generous in its appraisal. "A goalless but far from soulless Champions League final was eventually won by Milan on penalties at Old Trafford last night," it wrote. "Such had been the exceptional quality of defending that two hours elapsed without these Italian rivals being separated, so leaving the game to be settled by spot-kicks." Milan fans couldn't care either way.

Milan celebrates into the night
30.5 || Seamus

When Andriy Shevchenko's penalty hit the net in Manchester, some 1,200 miles away in Milan it took just two minutes for the street cavalcades to begin circling the city centre.

Excited fans
Time enough for groups of excited fans to dash down from apartment blocks, pile into cars and set off around the streets hanging precariously out of passenger windows and standing through sunroofs, waving huge red-and-black AC Milan flags, honking horns and screaming their delight at the club's first European Champion Clubs' Cup in nine years.

Refuge for Inter fans
For the previous three hours the city streets had been deserted as 20,000 fans watched the game on a huge screen set up inside the San Siro stadium, and most of the population crowded around TV screens. The only places doing business were cinemas, the last desperate refuge for Internazionale FC fans.

Cacophony of claxons
Many Interisti, like 33-year-old financial consultant Andrea, decided to "go to the movies" and pretend the first all-Italian final was simply not happening. But they could not avoid the deafening cacophony of claxons and car horns reverberating into the humid Milan night at the final whistle even as the Rossoneri players were still cavorting around Old Trafford with the huge trophy.

Sad faces
How different it was just 100 miles away to the west. The 25,000 Juventus fans had already drifted away from a giant screen, leaving Turin's elegant Piazza Castello reduced to a deserted sea of discarded litter. Knots of sad, black-and-white painted faces had to be content with 'only' a Serie A title this time.

All roads to the Duomo
But in Milan the celebrations were just starting. The San Siro, over on the western outskirts, disgorged its fans on to the metro, transformed into a red-and-black snake making its way eastward into the city centre. All roads led to Piazza Duomo, the huge main square in the city centre outside the famous cathedral. By midnight it began filling up.

Legions of supporters
A huge red banner draped down one facade of the Duomo suggested the church too had sanctioned Milan's victory - closer inspection revealed advertisements for the 600th anniversary of the world's oldest church choir. Milan's symbol - the golden Madonna statue perched atop the cathedral spire - glinted down on the legions of supporters converging by foot, car, tram and scooter.

Waving flags
With the stylish self-awareness that is quintessentially Italian, seemingly choreographed lines of Piaggio scooters set off around the cobbled streets, girlfriends riding pillion, sporting face paint and waving club flags above their heads. One policeman wearing a Milan scarf around his neck, said proudly: "Yes I'm on duty, but I'm a Rossonero."

Dancing in the streets
Dancing fans blocked passing trams, huge banners were drawn over car bonnets and one battered old Fiat Uno had been hastily spray-painted in club colours. The general good-natured delight was tinged with the odd malicious chant at Juve or Inter's expense and the law of idiots meant a couple of banned 'bomb' fireworks exploded dangerously in front of the cathedral's main doors. But things stayed the sane side of boisterous.

Gridlock
At one in the morning it was still 22 degrees and humid. Still the singing waves swept into the square. Outside the huge windowed Armani showroom in nearby Via San Pietro all'Orto someone wore a cardboard coffin. No one knew what it meant, nor cared. On the wide boulevard of Corso Venezia traffic police in shirt sleeves laughed with fans hanging from car windows at the gridlocked crossroads as traffic ground to a halt.

Proud city
With morning light came hundreds of Milan flags sprouting on balconies around a bleary-eyed, but proud city. It may be Italy's fashion and business capital, but little work would be done here today. Like the rest of Italy, it knows its priorities.

By Kevin Buckley in Milan

Champions League Final: the reactions of the italian press
30.5 || Seamus

Let's take a look at the reactions of the Italian press, following yesterday's Champions League final between Milan and Juventus.

"La Gazzetta dello Sport" titles: "Devils in paradise. Golden Milan, Silver Juve: Shevchenko is the right name". Best players: Shevchenko, Buffon 7.5, Nesta, Dida, Zambrotta, Gattuso 7. Worst players: Trezeguet 4.5, Camoranesi 5, Zalayeta, Montero, Costacurta, Pirlo 5.5.

In his editorial, former director Candido Cannavò says that "Dida's hands gave the final verdict a sense of justice: Milan did something more than Juventus, both in quality and in number of scoring opportunities. The Bianconeri were slow, empty in their muscles and in their souls: the lack of Nedved was just too much for them".

Another sports newspaper, "Tuttosport", which is based in Turin, titles: "EuroMilan: Juve give up only after the penalty kicks". Best players: Dida, Shevchenko 8, Gattuso, Nesta, Buffon, Zambrotta 7. Worst players: Trezeguet 4, Camoranesi 4.5, Del Piero 5, Tacchinardi 5.5.

The editorial of director Giancarlo Padovan focuses on the tactical aspects of the match. "Milan stunned Juve with a very determined start of the match, and nobody expected it. The Rossoneri were more rapid than attractive, both on the right, where Camoranesi and Thuram didn't do their job, and on the left, where Shevchenko devastated Montero. When Lippi replaced Tudor and Camoranesi with Birindelli and Conte things suddenly improved for the Bianconeri, but it was a flash in the pan: Juve were not the usual Juve yesterday, and in fact they didn't even manage to take advantage of Roque Junior's injury".

"Il Corriere della Sera" titles "Milan Champions Of Europe". Best players: Dida 8, Buffon 7.5, Nesta, Maldini 7. Worst players: Camoranesi, Trezeguet 5, Del Piero, Zalayeta 5.5.

In his editorial, Giorgio Tosatti says that "the match wasn't as bad as the scoreless draws often are. It was dominated by the respective defences, but Milan did something more, especially in the first half, and it was the deserved reward for a team that expressed the most innovative and creative soccer of the season. Furthermore, Lippi made some mistakes, fielding an inconsistent and inadequate Camoranesi and moving Montero on the left side of the defensive line, where Shevchenko was dominating".

Milan triumph in tight final
30.5 || Seamus

A match to forget? No, not quite. A match to remember? Not exactly. The 2002/03 Champions' League Final was a pressure cooker. Two Italian teams in the final wasn't exactly the best set-up for an attacking display that would please the neutrals. That said, the All-Italian clash between AC Milan and Juventus started out in spectacular fashion. The teams looked primed and ready to attack, throwing caution to the wind. The first half had it all: chances, back-and-forth play, controversy (read Andriy Shevchenko's ruled out goal), and passion. The football world was supposed to be in for a treat.

Unfortunately, the rest of the match never seemed to live up the excitement of the first 45 minutes. Milan started the game in good form. They were winning balls and Shevchenko was a constant menace for the Juve backline. Juventus started slower and this observer was quite surprised at their lack of pressure on Milan's players. It was far from a tight match, Milan were enjoying lots of possession along with the luxury of having time on the ball. Gianluigi Buffon made a world class save of a beautiful diving header by Filippo Inzaghi, and it looked as though Milan would need to produce something special to beat Buffon on this day.

Juventus began to creep back into the match as the half wore on, buoyed by the fact that Milan had yet to score despite their early dominance. It was Juve who looked more likely to score as the first stanza came to a close.

Analysis of the second half and both overtime periods will prove futile. After watching the opening 20 minutes of the second half you had the feeling that penalties were already looming in the minds of the players. There were far too few risks taken as both teams broke into attack sporadically. It was not a complete negative approach by the teams, though it wasn't exactly a positive approach either. The match was still hard-fought, but without the chances and excitement that we were all hoping for. On the one hand lovers of football must have been angered, on the other hand the players gave a glimpse of how bad each side wanted the trophy (even though the negative approach was the wrong way to go about it). A mistake could have been deadly during the second half and overtime and it would have pained many to see one of these teams lose by virtue of a silly mistake.

It would have been tough to pick a better team over the course of those two hours of match play, perhaps Milan by a hair, but only just. There were no clear men of the match either, though Gennaro Gattuso seemed to be everywhere on the night, and Buffon's steadiness gave Juve some extra confidence. The managers tactics or substitutions didn't have much bearing on the match. Marcello Lippi made his three available changes early, however he was forced to as a result of injuries. No substitute changed the course of the match, though Antonio Conte coming on for the ineffective Mauro Camoranesi was justified (it would have been a golden substitution had Conte scored early in the second half when his glancing header hit the crossbar).

After 120 minutes it was still 0-0. It was now on to those wretched penalties. It was high drama, any penalty shoot-out normally is, however you were always going to feel bad for the loser. In a competition of this standard it was surprising to see that these stars contrived to miss 5 out of 10 penalties. There was a sense that Dida moved off his line a bit too quick, however all the saved penalties barring one were poorly struck anyway. Shevchenko extracted a bit of personal revenge by scoring the winner and finally being able to celebrate after being stripped of his goal and joy early on. Milan won their 6th European title, and Juve were left to endure the agony of defeat.

Milan didn't totally deserve to win, neither did Juve. Both teams didn't deserve to lose. It wasn't the most exciting of matches, however it was not a dull match either. It was full of passion, full of drama, even if chances were hard to come by. Milan had a wonderful CL campaign and even if they didn't deserve this particular match 100%, they are worthy champions on the strength of their wonderful European campaign this season. They played some flowing football and beat some very good sides. All in all, a good day for football. And an even better day for Milan and their supporters.

George Tsitsonis

Viduka idea For Milan
29.5 || Seamus

SoccerAge.com can exclusively reveal that AC Milan are thinking about signing Leeds' Australian tower Mark Viduka.

Eventhough they won the Champions League, the Rossoneri lack a real strikng tower, and are one of the few clubs that have the money Leeds are asking for.

Roma were also insterested in Viduka, but his high-price tag scared the Giallorossi away.

It appears Leeds want around 25-30 million Euros in exchange for the powerful forward.

Galliani backs Milan squad
29.5 || Seamus

Milan have confirmed that there will be no major changes to the squad over the summer after their Champions’ League victory.

The Italian giants won their sixth European Cup at Old Trafford last night with a penalty shoot-out victory against Juventus.

"All of the players here will remain," said Vice-president Adriano Galliani as the Rossoneri flew back to Italy on Thursday.

"We don’t want to get rid of anyone and we want to make it clear to all of our squad that they are important to us."

However, Galliani did again confirm that it was his intention to make one major swoop on the transfer market.

"There will be an important addition," he added. "Don’t ask me who or in what position they play. But I have one player in mind."

Speculation suggests that Galliani wants to sign either Manchester United’s David Beckham, Luis Figo of Real Madrid or Sao Paulo youngster Kaka.

Meanwhile, Manuel Rui Costa (pictured) has spoken of his delight after bringing the European Cup back to Italian soil.

"We demonstrated that we are the best team in Europe," stated the Portuguese ace. "We deserved it as we played the best football throughout the competition."

Milan will have the chance to lift more silverware on Saturday as they look to defend their 4-1 first leg lead over Roma in the Coppa Italia Final.

"We really want to win that trophy for President Silvio Berlusconi because that is the only Cup he is missing," concluded the former Fiorentina man.

Espanyol set for talks with Milan over Domoraud
29.5 || Seamus

Espanyol are set to begin discussions with Milan over defender Cyril Domoraud.

The Spaniards are keen to negotiate a permanent deal after taking the player on loan this season.

Javier Clemente's club reportedly have first option on the former Inter man.

Shevchenko was not afraid to take decisive penalty
29.5 || Seamus

Milan striker Androy Shevchenko says he was not afraid to take the winning penalty in last night's Champions League triumph over Juventus.

"I asked myself to kick the last penalty," he was quoted as saying on Milan's official site. "I was not afraid because I was aware it was too important. I was calm to the spot and when I saw the ball past Buffon, I just thought 'Don't we have to kick another one, do we?'.

"Fortunately we didn't, I'm very happy for the club, the team and the supporters. We have been working for this trophy since the first day of the season."

He added: "This trophy means everything for me, as I have few chances to win the World Cup with my National team."

Ancelotti - I'm no loser
29.5 || Seamus

Carlo Ancelotti has hit back at his critics from the very top of European football after winning the Champions’ League.


“I will hold on tightly to this trophy,” commented the Milan Coach following the victory over his old club, “but this is not revenge against my critics.”


He earned the tag of ‘loser’ after twice finishing runner-up in the Scudetto race with Juventus and ending last year’s campaign in fourth place.


“It is possible that the nickname ‘loser’ got on my nerves,” he confessed, “but now I have a European Cup. It doesn’t matter to me now.”


Ancelotti has already lifted the trophy as a player and now the tactician brings Milan’s tally in this competition to six.


“I am happy to have brought another cup to the club’s trophy cabinet. The atmosphere and organisation at Milan is wonderful as everything always ticks along like clockwork.”


There were claims that if he failed to bring home the Cup from Old Trafford he would be sacked.


“I don’t think anything will change in my future,” insisted the Coach. “I will continue to count on a great team and a brilliant club.”


The match ended 0-0 after extra time, but Milan ran out surprise winners in a penalty shoot-out.


“The position of Manuel Rui Costa was extremely important throughout the game,” revealed Ancelotti, “and Andriy Shevchenko’s ability to move out wide and draw out the defence.”


Juventus were slight favourites before kick-off, but few can argue that Milan were the better team on the night.


“We tried to make the most of the space at our disposal, but in the first half there was a clear domination from my team.”


The party can get started and thousands of fans have invaded Milan’s Piazza Duomo to celebrate.


“Absolutely anything and everything will happen tonight,” smiled Ancelotti. “We will enjoy this trophy to the full and I don’t want to limit the players in their celebrations.”


Champagne will flow despite the fact Milan must still play the second leg of the Coppa Italia Final against Roma on Saturday evening.


“We must enjoy this moment because we suffered through so much strain and were always determined to get here. We believed in a dream and it has come true.”


The road to Manchester has been longer than most for the Rossoneri.


“The victory is all the sweeter,” continued Ancelotti, “because we started in the preliminary round.”


However, the Coach maintains this Final was not his most nerve-wracking moment.


“Without taking anything away from Juventus, the semi-final against Inter was the most difficult time as the tension was weighing down on us. The squad was very relaxed going into this Final.”


“In fact,” he concluded, “if we had lost tonight I still would have been content as I knew the team had given 100 per cent.”

Milan midfielders taste glory
29.5 || Seamus

Manuel Rui Costa wins his first major trophy two seasons into his Milan career while Andrea Pirlo finally takes centre stage.


“After thirteen years as a professional football player,” he noted, “nine of which were in Italy, I had never won anything truly important. It’s a fantastic feeling.”


Following many years at Fiorentina, the Portuguese international has at last been given centre stage on the continent.


“My mind is a whirlwind right now and I don’t understand anything that’s happening to me.”


Rui Costa was the guilty party after just eight minutes when he was caught offside to disallow Shevchenko’s goal.


“Looking at how the move developed it was inevitable I’d be standing in front of Buffon,” insisted the ex-Benfica man. “I’m not sure the goalkeeper even realised I was there.”


Rui Costa did not take part in the shoot-out as he had already been substituted.


“I was really scared at that point,” he confirms. “I and Andrea Pirlo are regular penalty takers, so my legs were shaking a little bit. But it went well – in fact, it could not have been better.”


It was certainly a curious situation to see Milan, who had missed several penalties this season in Serie A, win a shoot-out without their most consistent taker.


“It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t there,” said the substituted Pirlo, “as I just wanted to lift that trophy at the end of a fantastic season.”


The former Inter midfielder has taken on the mantle of the Milan midfield left by Demetrio Albertini.


“This was the greatest match of my life. It is since the start of the season that we have experimented with this new position for me and thankfully it went well."

"Now we hope to celebrate another trophy with the Coppa Italia.”

Seedorf speechless
29.5 || Seamus

Clarence Seedorf was lost of words after his side's penalty shoot-out win over Juventus in the Champions League final.

"I don't have any words, I've never been so happy," he told ITV1.

"Incredible, it's just incredible. Over the whole season in the Champions League we have done a fantastic job.

"The atmosphere was great in a great stadium. It was a great game played by two great teams but I believe Milan deserved to win as we had the best chances."

Berlusconi - I Thank Everyone
29.5 || Seamus

Italy Prime Minister and Milan president Silvio Berlusconi spoke after his side's Champions League triumph over Juventus.

"A great joy for everyone, the game in which I have suffered the most ever," he told Milan channel. "It was a deserved victory, however, I thank everyone. To win in this way, on penalties, against Juventus gives me even more satisfaction, it is wonderful.

"They all did well, I can't choose one player in particular. I especially congratulate Gattuso, Sheva, Dida and of course captain Maldini."

Maldini - It's Indescribable
29.5 || Seamus

Milan captain Paolo Maldini summed up his feels after lifting the Champions League trophy at the expense of Juventus.

"To put your hands on this trophy and look down at the captain's armband is an extraordinary emotion," he said.

"And to be back at this stage of my career, thirteen years after my first European Cup win, is just incredible.

"It was forty years ago that my Father did exactly what I'm doing now. I won't say this is better than my other wins, but to be the captain is a whole other feeling. It's indescribable."

Rossoneri stars celebrate
28.5 || scharatz

Carlo Ancelotti was known as the nearly man of Italian football, but beat his former club to lift the Champions’ League.

“We have a great deal of joy and incredible satisfaction,” said the Coach as celebrations raged around him.

“Tomorrow we will celebrate in style, because Milan deserved this trophy and this party.”

Ancelotti is a former Rossoneri star and already took the competition by storm as a player in the era of Arrigo Sacchi.

“To win the Champions’ League as a player and a Coach is much the same thing,” he insisted. “I am happy for myself and for the club.”

Paolo Maldini was the first to pick up the trophy in the Old Trafford centre circle and emulated his father Cesare’s actions.

“To put your hands on this trophy and look down at the captain’s armband is an extraordinary emotion,” said the defender.

“And to be back at this stage of my career, thirteen years after my first European Cup win, is just incredible.”

"It was forty years ago that my Father did exactly what I'm doing now. I won't say this is better than my other wins, but to be the captain is a whole other feeling. It's indescribable."

There was also time for a family moment as Maldini looked up into the stands.

“I raised my eyes and saw my wife and son looking down at me,” he concluded. “I cannot tell you how happy I am.”

Clarence Seedorf was in tears as he realised he had made history inside Old Trafford.

“It was just incredible. I am so happy and don’t have the words to describe this emotion.”

The Dutchman becomes the first man ever to win the trophy with three different clubs, having lifted it with Ajax and Real Madrid.

“The atmosphere was great and the two teams played to win. During the game Milan were the better team and did a wonderful job throughout the tournament. We deserved to win.”

Pippo Inzaghi was the top scorer for the eventually winners, his ten goals getting this team to the Final.

“I could have made it thirteen, including the preliminary round,” he smiled, “but Gianluigi Buffon performed a great save on my first half header.”

The striker is Italy’s most prolific player in European competition and earned this trophy against his former club.

“It has been an incredible year,” continued SuperPippo, “and to end it like this is just unbelievable. We beat a great Juventus squad and it is always tough to accept losing on penalties.”

Inzaghi showed his tenacity to hold on despite fitness worries during extra time.

“I had cramps and I think I have a bit of a thigh strain, but we all did well to hang on after Roque Junior got injured. Now we can celebrate and then prepare for the Coppa Italia Final against Roma.”

Gennaro Gattuso was perhaps man of the match after he battled the Juventus midfield at times single-handedly.

“My home town is a tiny place with no football pitches,” said the Calabrian. “I had to leave in order to play this sport, and I must dedicate this trophy to my people.”

The former Glasgow Rangers man has brought British style grit to the Rossoneri and proved invaluable.

“To win the Champions’ League was my childhood dream,” added the midfielder, “and I finally made it come true.”

“I don’t know who deserved it more and to be honest I am so tired I can’t think straight, but it was certainly a battle royal out there.”

Frank Rijkaard was on the field when Milan dominated this competition in the late 1980’s and early 90’s.

“It was an intense feeling and I got goosebumps when I saw my old teammate Maldini lift that Cup,” said the Dutch legend.

“It was a tough game for both sides and a penalty shoot-out is always tense. Milan played better, especially in the first half, but as time wore on the tension got to them.”

Many of the men involved used to share these celebrations with Rijkaard and he has not forgotten them.

“I am so happy for Maldini,” he continued, “who has always been and always will be a legend of this sport.”

“I also send my love and congratulations to Billy Costacurta, Ancelotti and his assistant manager Mauro Tassotti.”

The club is not new to glory as this will be their 14th continental cup to fill the trophy cabinet.

Milan have picked up six European Cups, two Cup Winners’ Cups, three European Supercups and three Intercontinental Cups.

As they have a 4-1 first leg lead in the Coppa Italia, it looks as if Ancelotti will do the Double this season.

THE CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE!!!
28.5 || scharatz

Juventus 0 - 0 Milan (2-3 on pens)

The first all-Italian Final went to penalties and Andriy Shevchenko converted the winner to give Milan their sixth Champions' League trophy. Juve;s curse continues as Marcello Lippi has lost three out of four Finals.

Old Trafford's Theatre of Dreams was the stage for the first ever all-Italian Champions' League Final. Juventus were the last Peninsula winners in 1996 and beat favourites Real Madrid in this year's semi-final.

Milan and Juventus faced each other twice in Serie A this season, both results ending 2-1 to the home side, so anything could happen in this neutral venue.

Milan insisted on playing in an all-white strip for superstitious reasons as they won the trophy three times with that shirt.

The Bianconeri were considered slight favourites, but were missing suspended star Pavel Nedved in midfield. For much of the week Marco Di Vaio was expected to take over, but Mauro Camoranesi got the nod. Paolo Montero was placed as a left-back, moving Igor Tudor to central defence.

Milan were without the injured Jon Dahl Tomasson, while Billy Costacurta recovered at the last minute from a calf problem suffered during training. Rivaldo was on the bench despite picking up a thigh injury on Tuesday.

The game was also a duel between old Juve teammates Alessandro Del Piero and Pippo Inzaghi - the joint top Italian scorers of all time in the Champions' League.

It was immediately an aggressive start with a high tempo as Paolo Maldini performed a crucial tackle on David Trezeguet within 30 seconds.

Inzaghi's first penalty appeal came on seven minutes for a slight tug from Igor Tudor, but the referee waived play on.

There was controversy on eight minutes when Milan hit the back of the net with Andriy Shevchenko, but the goal was disallowed for offside positions from Manuel Rui Costa and Inzaghi. It was similar to the goal Real Madrid were given against Juventus in the semi-final first leg, but the Portuguese international was very close to Gianluigi Buffon.

Moments later a Trezeguet diving header on Lilian Thuram's cross went well wide of the near post in an excellent scoring opportunity for the Bianconeri.

Milan were stronger going upfront and Inzaghi thought he had scored, but his diving header was palmed out by a fantastic Buffon one-handed save.

Del Piero took a while to get into the game and gathered a Gianluca Zambrotta pass only to curl it over the bar.

The Juventus captain then combined well with Trezeguet, but Kakha Kaladze cleaned up at the back.

Zambrotta cleared a dangerous Shevchenko centre as it moved towards Rui Costa.

There was bad news for Juve on 35 minutes when Del Piero suffered a cut under his eye from an accidental clash with Alessandro Nesta. He was able to carry on in some discomfort.

Rui Costa has not scored in Europe since joining Milan and had a good chance before the break, but his low drive was just off target.

Igor Tudor was forced to come off just before half-time when he fell awkwardly and seemed to damage his thigh. Alessandro Birindelli took over at left-back, moving Montero to the centre.

Del Piero forced a save from Dida moments later with an angled drive after he out-paced Nesta.

Juventus really should have scored from a resulting corner kick, but Nesta acrobatically removed the ball from the foot of Ciro Ferrara as he lined up from six yards.

Milan also kept the pressure on and Buffon got down to block a Kaladze shot after a fine sweeping move from Carlo Ancelotti's men.

Veteran Antonio Conte came on for the second half to replace the disappointing Camoranesi, moving Zambrotta to a wider role.

Conte made an immediate impact as his diving header on Del Piero's centre thumped the crossbar with Dida well beaten.

Marcello Lippi's squad was much more aggressive after the break and poured forward to put the Milan defence under pressure.

Nonetheless, it was the Rossoneri who went close on the hour mark when Paolo Maldini connected with an Andrea Pirlo free kick, but it was inches wide.

The incident sparked a revival in Milan's fortunes and they began to play with more confidence.

There were two substitutions on 65 minutes. Marcelo Zalayeta replaced the injured Edgar Davids, who was struggling with a thigh problem, and hoped he would replicate the substitute's appearance he made in Barcelona during the quarter-finals.

Costacurta was in doubt until the final minute with a calf strain and was replaced by Brazilian Roque Junior.

Pirlo has been struggling with injuries in recent months, so pacey winger Serginho came on for the final twenty minutes.

The two teams began to stretch out as tiredness set in and Conte ballooned a good half-volley over the bar.

Milan went close soon after when Serginho's whipped in cross met the head of Inzaghi, but he nodded it wide from close range.

Inzaghi got into another dangerous position soon after and battled Montero to get a deflected turn out for a corner.

Rui Costa was becoming increasingly tired and made way for Massimo Ambrosini.

Clarence Seedorf was trying to become the first man to win the Champions' League with three different clubs, but his angled drive was confidently held by Buffon.

Curiously, referee Markus Merk only awarded one minute of injury time and blew the whistle five seconds early.

The entertaining game, particularly in the first hour, ended goalless and went to extra time with the possibility of a Silver Goal.

Juve had the first chance when Zalayeta got his head to Alessandro Birindelli's cross, but the angle was too tight and he struck the side-netting.

Milan were practically playing in ten men for extra time, as early on Roque Junior damaged his thigh in an awkward fall. He could not be replaced as the three substitutions had been performed, so he stayed on the field practically stationary.

Conte turned another good chance over the bar from the edge of the box as Juve increased the pressure.

Both teams looked positively exhausted at the end of a long hard season, although Milan still have the second leg of a Coppa Italia Final against Roma to come.

The Silver Goal rule could not apply, as the sides remained deadlocked after 15 minutes of extra time.

Juve had penalty appeals at the dawn of the second period of extra time for Nesta's contact with Conte, but the referee waved play on. The defender certainly went in with his arm, but Conte perhaps exaggerated the foul.

The only man on the field who seemed to have the energy to fight was Gennaro Gattuso, but penalties loomed large.

Del Piero thumped a volley over the bar from the edge of the box, while Thuram's diving header prevented Inzaghi latching onto a Shevchenko cross.

It went to a penalty shoot-out, the first time in the Champions' League Final since Valencia-Bayern Munich in 2001. Juventus are not new to this scenario, as they beat Ajax on penalties in 1996.

Milan have had a disastrous run from the spot this season, as in Serie A Pirlo was the only man to convert them consistently. Buffon also has a strong reputation for saving penalties, having stopped Luis Figo against Real Madrid in the semi's.

Inzaghi has missed several over the season and was not included in the list of penalty takers for Milan.

Trezeguet was first up and saw his central kick saved by Dida, then Serginho scored to give Milan an early advantage in this duel.

Birindelli converted the first for Juventus and Buffon saved from Seedorf to put the two teams level again.

Substitute Zalayeta was third to the spot for the Bianconeri and was also kept out by Brazilian international Dida. Kakhaber Kaladze had his effort saved by Buffon's legs to keep them level again.

The goalkeepers were winning this battle easily as Montero's penalty was saved. Defender Alessandro Nesta stepped up and converted his kick, meaning the final round of penalties would be decisive for the trophy.

Captain Alessandro Del Piero was the last man up for Juventus and is their regular kick taker in Serie A. He comfortably slid the ball past Dida to put the onus on Milan's last man Andriy Shevchenko and the Ukrainian buried it to give the Rossoneri their fifth European Cup.



Juventus: Buffon; Thuram, Tudor (Birindelli 42), Ferrara, Montero; Camoranesi (Conte 46), Tacchinardi, Davids (Zalayeta 65), Zambrotta; Del Piero, Trezeguet

Milan: Dida; Costacurta (Roque Junior 65), Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso, Pirlo (Serginho 71), Seedorf; Rui Costa (Ambrosini 86); Shevchenko, Inzaghi

Ref: Merk (Ger)



AC Milan player ratings vs. Juventus - from soccerage.com

Dida 8-Stopped three of Juve's five penalty kicks. A hero.

Costacurta 6-Ancelotti took him out at the right time.

Nesta 7,5-Gigantic.

Maldini 8-The captain of the 2002/2003 Champions League winners.

Kaladze 6,5-A good game down the left side of the pitch. Suffered slightly when Zambrotta surged into Milan's half.

Gattuso 8,5-Give him the Ballon D'Or!

Pirlo 6,5-A great first half, but vanished when the second one started. Ancelotti replaces him with Serginho shortly after.

Seedorf 7-Most of Milan's chances started off his feet. Cool and calm throughout the match, except when he was called to the spot.

Rui Costa-6,5-Always in the thick of the action, but many times inconclusive.

Shevchenko 7,5-The man of the match in the first half, where he also has a beautiful goal disallowed for an Inzaghi offside position. Scores the winning penalty kick.

Inzaghi 6,5-Great movement and heart, but misses a couple of good chances and denies Sheva with a great goal.

SUBS

Roque Junior 6,5-Strains his muscle, but heroically remains on the pitch to help shorthanded Milan contain Juve during injury time.

Serginho 6-More lows than highs.

Ambrosini 6,5-Added some much needed strength to the Milan midfield late in the game.

Champions League Final Preview: Milan v Juventus
28.5 || Seamus

Europe may be bustling with anticipation ahead of the most eagerly awaited sporting event of the year, but the tension in Italy, and in particular Turin and Milan, is at a whole new level. After a few shadowy years in the competition, Italy's two finest clubs have made it to the final of the UEFA Champions League. Fans of Juventus and Milan have gone berserk buying jerseys, scarves, flags and other merchandise ahead of this mega-clash and the centres of both cities will be packed chock-a-block come Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, some thousand miles north of there, hundreds of part-time and full-time workers are plugging away to make last minute preparations for this grand spectacle. Manchester United FC's Old Trafford stadium has been the busiest structure in Europe over the past few weeks. With the world's richest club hosting this year's event, football fans have no doubt that this Champions League final will be one to remember for a long time to come.

For Juventus, winning the Champions League could be the icing on the cake of a wondrous season where they have clinically defended the league title they won last year. It would also wash away the misery of two successive final defeats in the late 90s when it was predicted that they would walk away as winners.

Milan meanwhile have had a disappointing league campaign and would love to set it all right by putting themselves back on the Euro map as champions. It has been eight years since the side made an impact in the Champions League and nine since they actually won it (in that memorable victory over Barcelona in Athens). Given that Cesare Maldini lifted the cup as skipper 40 years ago on English soil, they will be hoping that Paolo Maldini can repeat the same feat on Wednesday.

Marcello Lippi's side have been dubbed favourites for this titanic match-up by many. However, looking at head-to-heads in Serie A there is little to go on. The Bianconeri triumphed 2-1 at the Delle Alpi in the first-half of the season, while the Rossoneri secured a deserved win by the same score a few weeks ago.

The obvious question on many a Juve fan's lips is just how will the side get on without its orchestrater, Pavel Nedved? The Czech has surely enjoyed the finest season of his distinguished career, and would have graced such a huge occasion.

So what kind of game will we get? Well a fascinating tactical battle for a start, and with all the talent on show the spectacle shouldn't be short on quality. Perhaps it's dangerous to make such forecasts as so many finals have disappointed in the past. The smart money would have to be on the side who opens the scoring going on to win the game.

Lippi will be more than aware of the need to stop the likes of Manuel Rui Costa and Clarence Seedorf weaving their pretty patterns with the ball. If they are allowed to provide decent service for Andriy Shechenko and Filippo Inzaghi, the Bianconeri should get ready to pay the price.

Therefore Edgar Davids will be so important to Juve's cause. He has the ability to set the tempo of a game, and Lippi will hope he's in the mood to dominate his 'manor' at OT. If the Dutchman can stamp his authority in this area, Juve should be looked upon as favourites.


ROAD TO THE FINALS

Milan: After putting in a couple of well-worked performances against Slovan Liberec in the qualifying rounds, AC Milan burst into a spectacular technical marvel in the first group stage. After disposing of Lens at home, they went on to thrash Deportivo La Coruña 4-0 away and then beat Bayern 2-1 twice to win the Group of Death with two games to spare. Their results in the second group stage were less spectacular, but no less effective. A wonderfully architected 1-0 home win over Real was followed by three more wins with the same score line over Dortmund, Lokomotiv and then Lokomotiv again. By this time, they had won their group again and while they lost the subsequent two games, it was inconsequential.

The knockout stages were more dramatic as Jon Dahl Tomasson's 90th minute strike versus Ajax put Milan through to the semis. Their Dutch opponents seemed to be on the verge of an upset with the score at 2-2, but Filippo Inzaghi managed to conjure up the needed mojo and inspired the magical strike. The tension was no less in the historical semi-final derby against city rivals Internazionale. Andriy Shevchenko's away goal appeared to have put Milan in a strong position after a 0-0 draw in Milan's home game, but in the end the Rossoneri had to hang on by the skin of their teeth to avoid a late Inter comeback.

Juventus: a draw against Feyenoord, and then home wins over Dinamo Kiev and Newcastle set the tone in Juve's first phase group. They may have lost away to the Toon in the following match, but a 2-0 win over Feyenoord courtesy of two Marco Di Vaio strikes set up qualification. They then beat Dinamo 2-1 in the Ukraine despite not needing a result.

After being held by Deportivo and beaten twice by Manchester United in the next phase, the Bianconeri edged past Depor 3-2 at the Delle Alpi to secure qualification. They went down 2-1 to Basle in the last game, but it didn't matter.

Barcelona were to be Juve's next victims in the quarter finals. After a disappointing 1-1 draw in the first-leg at the Delle Alpi, Lippi's ten-men were on the back-foot for much of their visit to Camp Nou but Marcelo Zalayeta's extra-time goal handed them a 2-1 win and set up a meeting with those other Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid.

After David Trezeguet had levelled a Ronaldo opener, Roberto Carlos controversially won the first-leg for the Merengues. But Juve were in scintillating form in the return game, and goals from Trezeguet, Del Piero and Nedved gave the Italians deserved progress to the final.


TEAM NEWS

Milan: Carlo Ancelotti's biggest problem could be that his line-up is likely to be more predictable than that of his counterpart. While Juventus are looking to shuffle the pack around to compensate for the loss of Pavel Nedved, Ancelotti is very likely to stick with the same eleven that got him through against bitter rivals Inter.

Recent doubts surrounding the fitness of Alessandro Costacurta are said to be unfounded and if so, the former Italian international will line-up alongside Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini and Kakha Kaladze in defence. Otherwise, Roque Junior will deputise at right back. Dida has recovered from a broken finger and will man the posts. Ancelotti looks set to stick with the midfield quartet that was responsible for most of Milan's success this term. Gattuso, Pirlo and Seedorf look set to share midfield duties behind Manuel Rui Costa. While Gattuso will be exclusively responsible for cleaning up the mess in the middle of the park, Pirlo and Seedorf will also contribute with their playmaking skills.

Jon Dahl Tomasson's absence due to a shoulder injury means Milan's only two fit strikers pair up in the form of Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi. Rivaldo once again finds himself relegated to the bench alongside the likes of Massimo Ambrosini and Serginho. However, Ancelotti has made it clear that the bench players could play an important role should they be brought on and he expects them to be at their best.

Juventus: Lippi must decide whether to replace the suspended Nedved with Camoranesi or Di Vaio. The former is the more likely candidate, and was rested against Chievo on Saturday. The Turin club have an otherwise fully-fit squad. Gianluigi Buffon will start in goal, with a steady back-four of Lilian Thuram, Ciro Ferrara, Paolo Montero and Alessandro Birindelli in front of him. Gialuca Zambrotta and Camoranesi should occupy the wings, with the latter being given more license to drift perhaps. Davids and Alessio Tacchinardi will fill the central-midfield slots, while Trezeguet and Del Piero will link up in attack.


WHO'S HOT

Gennaro Gattuso (Milan): While this section is mostly reserved for deft-footed playmakers, deadly strikers and barbican defenders, it would be unfair to single out anyone but this man. Gattuso has been one of the key reasons Milan have made it to the final. While Inzaghi's goals have powered Milan through the opening stages and the Nesta-Maldini partnership has gone a long way in ensuring the team's defensive poise, it has been Rino Gattuso's lion-hearted approach that has powered the Milan midfield engine. Without Gattuso's endless running, this Milan side would lack bite.

Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus): in the absence of Nedved all eyes will now turn to Del Piero, the Bianconeri's other main creative force. The 28-year-old is desperate to make up for previous failures on the world stage, and the fact that he is physically stronger and psychologically more mature as a player, stand him in good stead to do this.


WHO'S NOT

Kakha Kaladze (Milan): Although Kaladze has not done too badly of late, the former Kiev defender has failed to put in performances reminiscent of his efforts in Milan's 1-0 victory over Real Madrid. Kaladze completely shut down Luis Figo in that game and yet managed to contribute up the wing as well. When on form, Kaladze has often been lethal, charging up and down that left flank, much like another great who plays alongside him: Paolo Maldini. His alert defensive plays have also made him a valid replacement for the aforementioned legend.

Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus): The Argentine has not featured regularly in recent times, but is set to be asked to fill Nedved's boots. Like Kaladze, he's not in particularly poor form, although did have a torrid time when introduced against Real in the semi-final first-leg.

Ancelotti says Milan are calm
28.5 || Seamus

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti says his side are mellow ahead of tomorrow's Champions League final with Juventus at Old Trafford.

"We are preparing with great calmness," the club's official site quoted him as saying on 'Studio Milan'. "We arrive at this match very well in all aspects and the players have even improved on a physical level. Milan will play to the best of their ability and will do well. We will see if that will be enough to win."

Ancelotti - "We will decide about Costacurta tomorrow"
28.5 || Seamus

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti says a decision will be made on the fitness of Billy Costacurta tomorrow before the Champions League final with Juventus.

The player is feeling pain in his left calf, and Ancelotti said: "We still have some doubts about Costacurta, the others are well. I still cannot say anything about Billy. The situation will be clarified and decided tomorrow."

Seedorf - "It will be a special match"
28.5 || Seamus

On Wednedsay, Milan's Clarence Seedorf will play his third Champions League final, but the Dutch midfielder thinks that the match against the Bianconeri will be a special one.

"I'll face my friend Davids, who has already played four finals" he said, "and I have to say that the emotions I'm feeling with Milan have no equals".

Injury hits Rivaldo on eve of final
28.5 || Seamus

Brazilian superstar Rivaldo's presence in the Champions League final is in severe doubt following a thigh injury he suffered during AC Milan's afternoon training session.

The former Barcelona creative limped off the pitch with a hand on his thigh just 30 minutes after the Rossoneri's training session began.

Rivaldo was not tipped to be in Milan's starting eleven for the Juventus showdown.

Maldini leads Milan to the top
27.5 || webmaster

Paolo Maldini believes the Champions’ League Final is just a stepping stone, but Rivaldo pulled up during training today and could miss the match.


The Brazilian was not tipped to be in the starting eleven to face Juventus, although he could have been drafted in as a second half substitute.


Rivaldo pulled up during this evening’s training session on the Old Trafford turf after just thirty minutes of exercises.


He was clutching his thigh and it seems to be another muscular problem for the World Cup winner.


It’s a serious blow to the Rossoneri, as striker Jon Dahl Tomasson is already out with a shoulder injury, while defender Alessandro Costacurta is in doubt with a calf strain.


Despite the setbacks, Paolo Maldini is looking to take Milan all the way back to their glory days in the late 1980’s and early 90’s.


“It was about time that we got back into a Champions’ League Final,” commented the captain. “I hadn’t played in one for eight years and it was a feeling I and the entire team missed.”


Maldini was part of the glorious squad that included Franco Baresi, Marco Van Basten and Carlo Ancelotti – now the Coach of this team.


“I waited a long time to get back here,” he continued, “but now this Final can give us the chance to play other important games like the Intercontinental Cup and European Supercup.”


The Rossoneri are not considered to be the favourites against Scudetto winners Juve, but do top this month’s international club rankings as drawn up by the IFFHS.


Milan have climbed back to the top spot ahead of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal, Barcelona and Juventus.

Ancelotti demands team effort
27.5 || scharatz

Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti is convinced that his men must play as a team if they want to lift the European Cup.

The Rossoneri face Juventus at Old Trafford on Wednesday and the tactician believes he has the recipe for Champions' League victory.

"I don’t think that the match will be decided by individual players," he stated on Tuesday. "The most important thing will be the team.

"The winner on Wednesday will be the side that is good enough to express its own brand of football throughout the tie."

Some Italian clubs have been criticised by the media this term for their defensive attitude and Ancelotti believes the final may be very cagey.

"Seeing as both sides play in Serie A, this will be a game with the characteristics of an Italian tie," he told a Spanish journalist.

"That means that both sides will be very careful and cautious. Other countries may have different ideas but we should not be ashamed of our game.

"After all, let us not forget that out of the four semi-finalists, there was Real Madrid and three Italian clubs."

Ancelotti has a full squad at his disposal apart from the injured Jon Dahl Tomasson. Even if there are worries over Billy Costacurta, plus goalkeepers Dida and Christian Abbiati.

"Costacurta is our biggest concern at the moment," added the former Italian international. "As for the ‘keepers, they should both be available for selection."

Probable line-up: Abbiati; Costacurta, Maldini, Nesta, Kaladze; Pirlo, Seedorf, Gattuso; Rui Costa; Shevchenko, Inzaghi

Ancelotti's Old Trafford doubts
25.5 || scharatz

Carlo Ancelotti has revealed how Milan will approach Wednesday’s Old Trafford showdown with Juventus.

“We are relaxed and ready for this ultimate test,” insisted the tactician, “but I will only decide on the starting line-up on Monday.”

The Champions’ League Final is fast approaching and the Rossoneri rested almost the entire squad for yesterday’s 4-2 defeat at Piacenza.

“It was a game that did not count for either side, so there was no reason to risk more injuries. Including the goalkeeper, I have three doubts to work through before the Final.”

Dida has been out for a couple of weeks with a thumb injury, but Ancelotti has already confirmed that if the Brazilian is fit then he will start in goal. Failing that, Christian Abbiati will take charge.

As for the remaining two question marks, the Coach will not be drawn on tactical changes to take on Juventus.

“We are not working on any particular adjustments to our normal play,” he insisted. “The next training session will be behind closed doors, but I can reveal that the doubts I have are based on what kind of approach we will take.”

Milan have played Juventus twice in Serie A this season, falling 2-1 in Turin and winning at the San Siro with the same scoreline.

“It is Juve who must work to change their side in order to make up for the absence of the suspended Pavel Nedved,” he noted.

Ex-midfielder Ancelotti moves towards his most important test as a Coach.

“I was Arrigo Sacchi’s assistant manager in the 1994 World Cup Final,” he explains, “but I obviously feel more responsible for this Champions’ League showdown.”

Always considered something of a nearly man in Italian football, he now has the opportunity to win two trophies.

“Our season has been very good so far, but it can become extraordinary if we can lift the Champions’ League and Coppa Italia.”

Piacenza 4-2 AC Milan - match report
24.5 || webmaster

Scorers: Hubner 5, 82 (P), Maresca pen 16 (P), Brocchi pen 29, 91 (M), Marchionni 31 (P)

Piacenza are already relegated, but wanted to give the home fans a good sending off. Dario Hubner broke the deadlock within five minutes with a fine volley from eight yards on Davide Baiocco's centre.

Milan rested almost their entire squad and essentially fielded the youth team in their final Serie A match of the season.

Piacenza doubled their lead soon after from the spot when Stefano dragged back Hubner. Enzo Maresca stepped up to successfully convert the penalty.

The referee also pointed to the spot at the other end of the field when Vittorio Tosto held back Ibrahim Ba by his shirt. Christian Brocchi drilled home to put Milan back in it.

The scoreline lasted for all of 60 seconds before Marco Marchionni rose to nod in a Tosto cross.

Milan's youth team was not up to the task and Hubner scored another low drive on the counter-attack.

Brocchi salvaged a moment of dignity in stoppage time with a wonderful looping effort from the edge of the box that slotted into the top corner.

Piacenza: Guardalben; Gurenko, Cristante, Campagnaro, Tosto; Marchionni (Ferrarese 46), Di Francesco, Maresca, Baiocco; Patrascu (Babatunde 63), Hubner

Milan: Fiori; Helveg, Laursen, Stefani (Del Bello 46), Aubameyang (Pastrello 61); Ba, Redondo, Dalla Bona, Brocchi; Matri (Bortolotto 71), Piccolo

Ref: Rizzoli

Lippi: Milan are the favourites
23.5 || scharatz

Marcello Lippi wants the underdog role going into the Champions’ League Final and has put his faith in the Rossoneri.


Juventus are widely considered to be the favourites for the Old Trafford clash on May 28, even without the suspended Pavel Nedved, a theory Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti put forward this week.


“Who says we are tipped for success?” asked the Coach. “If anything Milan are thought to be the favourites. I agree with that evaluation.”


There could well be some superstitious element to Lippi’s statements, as twice in this Champions’ League season they have eliminated Barcelona and Real Madrid against the odds.


The tactician is also familiar with going into a Final as favourites, having lost to underdogs Borussia Dortmund.


“I have won the competition once,” noted Lippi, “and lost two others. To lose a third Final would be too much to bear. We know it will be a balanced game and good luck will prove decisive.”


The Coach is currently considering how to replace Nedved, but insists the decision has already been made.


“I won’t give myself a headache over it. There are two or three different alternatives, especially as a team can develop and change over the 90 minutes.”


Marco Di Vaio is in pole position to start out wide in a trident attack along with Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet.


“I already have the starting eleven in my mind,” he added, “but I will inform the players of this at the last possible moment before stepping on to the field at Old Trafford.”


This warning extends to all those who feel Saturday’s Serie A encounter with Chievo is of no interest now that the Scudetto is won.


“This is an important test for us, because I want to go to Manchester with eighteen players on top form. Everyone will be under my gaze on Saturday and they had better impress me.”


Galliani hails Milan’s season
23.5 || scharatz

Milan’s season has been an extraordinary success according to Adriano Galliani – even if they lose the Champions’ League Final.

"This has been a splendid campaign for us," said the Vice-president. "No matter how the game goes against Juventus.

"Obviously it is our aim to win the European Cup but you just have to look at our results this season to see how good we have been."

The Rossoneri obviously face up to Juve at Old Trafford on Wednesday but also look good to lift the Coppa Italia.

Milan beat Roma 4-1 in the first leg of the final on Tuesday and will look to finish the job at the San Siro on May 31.

The only real negative for the giants was their exit from the Scudetto race as champions Juventus were just too consistent to catch.

Meanwhile, boss Carlo Ancelotti has looked ahead to the European showdown against his former club.

"They are considered as the favourites and should be when you look at their recent performances," said the tactician.

"They are a tough side to play against because they don’t have any weaknesses. But we could cause them problems with our possession play."

However, captain Paolo Maldini is at odds with the bookmakers. "I don’t think there are any favourites," said the legend.

"Obviously people were left impressed by their victory over Real Madrid but this is a one-off game where anything can happen."

Seedorf fears Nedved-less Juve
23.5 || scharatz

Milan ace Clarence Seedorf believes that Champions’ League Final opponents Juventus will be stronger without Pavel Nedved.

The Bianconeri will be without the Czech because of suspension but Seedorf believes that may not handicap them despite his undoubted class.

"I don’t think his absence will be an advantage for us," said the Dutchman. "In fact they will probably work even harder to cope without him."

The midfielder is looking to make history on Wednesday as he could win the European Cup with his third club after success with Ajax and Real Madrid.

"We need to go into the game with the same attitude that we’ve had all season by just concentrating on our game and not on our opponents," he continued.

"But we won’t really need to find any extra motivation because, after all, this is the European Cup that we are playing for.

"Personally speaking I’m very proud to be playing for such a trophy and this will be my extra incentive to do well."

Three suspended for Coppa Italia 2nd leg
22.5 || Seamus

The Italian Football League have confirmed that three players will be suspended for the second leg of the Coppa Italia Final.

Milan, already 4-1 up after their win at the Olimpico on Tuesday, will have to do without two key midfielders.

Both Massimo Ambrosini and Cristian Brocchi were booked in the first leg and will be out of the San Siro return.

The Giallorossi will be without midfielder Marcos Cafu (pictured) who was also carded in the opening encounter.

That means that the Brazilian will probably play his final game for the club on Saturday against Atalanta.

The World Cup winner has turned down an offer of a new contract and is set to leave the Olimpico.

Curiously, his next destination could be Milan who have been constantly linked with the 32-year-old.

AC Milan Ultras vow to remain peaceful in Manchester
22.5 || Seamus

A statement released today by AC Milan's ultras groups announced their intent to avoid violent contact with the Juventus fans before, during, and after Wednesday's Champions League final.

"The Milan ultras inform the club and communicate to the rest of the fans their will to avoid any sort of contact with the opposing fans," read the statement sent and published by ACMilan.com.

A similar statement is expected to be sent out by the Juventus fans.

Although the clubs harbour an extremely friendly relationship, the same can't be said about their respective ultras factions.

Violent clashes occur almost every time these teams meet, the last time (back in March at San Siro) being no exception.

Galliani not yet feeling Final nerves
22.5 || Seamus

Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani says he is not yet nervous about the Champions League final against Juventus.

"What matters the most is that we have brought Italian football back to its former glory," he was quoted as saying on the club's official site. "I am not yet nervous. The tension will come when I land in Manchester. For now I am enjoying what we have accomplished up to this point."

He added: "It has been a extraordinary season in which the disappointment for the Campionato has been made up by the two finals."

Buffon to miss Euro final?
22.5 || Seamus

Milan’s Jon Dahl Tomasson won’t make the trip to Old Trafford, but Juventus are waiting on news from Gianluigi Buffon.


The Rossoneri striker is definitely out of the Champions’ League Final on May 28 after tearing a ligament in his shoulder.


The Dane suffered the injury during last night’s 4-1 Coppa Italia win at Roma and will undergo surgery this week.


Juventus are already without the suspended Pavel Nedved for the European Final in Manchester, but there are conflicting reports on Buffon’s condition.


The goalkeeper has been substituted in his last two Serie A outings with a right shoulder problem.


“It is something that has been bothering me for the last two months,” admitted the Italian international, “but the substitutions were just for precaution.”


He is undergoing specialist treatment with Juventus medical staff and it is reported there is only an 80 per cent chance of seeing him start against Milan next Wednesday.


Buffon was given three days of complete rest before beginning a personalised training programme this afternoon.


He is currently working with the aid of strapping to prevent the shoulder making brusque movements.


Should the ex-Parma man, who saved a Luis Figo penalty in the semi-final against Real Madrid, not make it then Antonio Chimenti would start between the posts.

Milan lose Tomasson for three months
22.5 || Seamus

AC Milan striker Jon Dahl Tomasson was operated this morning in Varese as a result of the shoulder injury he picked up last Tueaday at AS Roma.

A statement released on the club's official website www.acmilan.com this morning announced:

'Jon Dahl Tomasson underwent surgery this morning at the University of Varese. Paolo Cherubino was the operating doctor who repaired the dislocated shoulder suffered in the Roma vs Milan match. Recovery time is between two to three months, barring complications,'

This injury leaves Ancelotti without a valid offesnive alternative for Wednesday night's Champions League showdown against Juventus.

Ancelotti eyes the double
20.5 || webmaster

Fabio Capello blamed bad luck for tonight’s 4-1 defeat, but Carlo Ancelotti insists Milan’s squad is capable of doing The Double.


“We had chances to score throughout the match,” commented Roma boss Capello. “Milan had a curious penalty and an own goal on their side, while our goalkeeper did not get to make a single save.”


The Giallorossi dominated the first half of the Coppa Italia Final and went into the break 1-0 up, but crumbled in the final thirty minutes.


“The scoreline is extremely harsh and we deserved a draw at least. It just isn’t our year and it’s been like this for a while. Let’s hope our luck improves next season.”


The second leg is at the San Siro on May 31, but even Capello concedes that four away goals give Milan a commanding position.


“It will be hard to turn this result around, but we will go to the San Siro looking for the win and hope they are a little complacent.”


Carlo Ancelotti could not help but be satisfied with a 4-1 first leg victory at the Stadio Olimpico.


“The second half was certainly an improvement on the first, as Roma had a lot of opportunities before the break and deserved more.”


The Milan tactician admitted there was an element of luck to this win, but also practice.


“We scored two goals from set-pieces and you need those incidents to go your way in a game,” he noted.


The result is all the more impressive when considering the number of first team players who were rested for this Final.


“If Milan are in two Finals for trophies then it is thanks to the entire squad and not just a first choice eleven.”


Ancelotti visibly tensed when interviewers suggested the Cup was already in Milan’s hands, their first edition of this trophy since 1977.


“You can never relax in football. This is half-time in the tie and we are 4-1 up, but it’s not over yet.”


Before the final whistle can be blown on the Coppa Italia, Milan must face Juventus in the May 28 Champions’ League Final.


“The team is physically in good shape and the injuries are beginning to heal,” he noted, “but having seen Juventus against Real Madrid it seems we are not the only ones to be on form.”


Christian Abbiati proved decisive with several saves on Francesco Totti, but with Dida recovering from a fractured thumb he could be on the bench at Old Trafford.


“The choices have been difficult all season and not just now,” concluded Ancelotti. “It is better to be a Coach in this position than to have few options available to you.”

Coppa Italia Final First Leg: AS Roma 1-4 AC Milan - match report
20.5 || webmaster

Milan seem to have the Coppa Italia in the bag after Serginho’s brace earned a crushing 4-1 first leg victory at Roma’s Stadio Olimpico.


The Rossoneri are the only team fighting on three fronts and rested several top stars ahead of the Champions’ League Final.


The Giallorossi are already assured of the UEFA Cup qualifying spot given to the winners of this trophy, as Milan will enter the Champions’ League next season.


Francesco Totti and Marcos Cafu returned from long injury lay-offs to support the on-form Antonio Cassano upfront, but Vincenzo Montella and Francisco Lima were out of action.


Milan had the first real chance on nine minutes when Tomasson chested down the ball, flipped it over Jonathan Zebina and brought a difficult save out of Ivan Pelizzoli.


Christian Abbiati was also tested with a flying fingertip save on Cassano’s splendid curling effort – a finish usually associated with Juve’s Alessandro Del Piero.


Rivaldo showed more enthusiasm than Milan fans have become accustomed to and charged past several defenders, but Zebina out-sprinted him as he reached the box.


Francesco Totti eventually broke the deadlock in spectacular fashion. On the half-hour mark the Roma captain rifled a simply unstoppable free kick into the roof of the net from almost twenty metres. The sheer power on the finish did not stop it curling around the defensive wall.


It was a tense game with a high tempo and there were several yellow cards during the first half. Christian Brocchi, Massimo Ambrosini and Cafu will be suspended for the second leg. Fabio Capello’s men were more energetic and took control after Totti’s goal.


Rivaldo got into a good scoring position on the edge of the box, but somehow fired well wide of the target.


The visitors fought back after the break, but Brocchi’s effort was deflected out for a corner kick.


There was almost a very serious injury for Damiano Tommasi when he tried to clear as Pelizzoli came out to punch, but the goalkeeper managed to readjust his position and struck him on the shoulder rather than the head.


Soon after Pelizzoli made a reaction save on Tomasson’s close-range effort, but there were also penalty appeals for a push on Serginho.


Milan poured forward and left Roma space to counter-attack, but Abbiati performed a difficult save on Cafu’s angled drive.


The pressure paid off on 62 minutes when Christian Panucci slapped the ball off Tomasson’s chest and the referee pointed to the spot. Milan have missed five penalties in Serie A this season, but Serginho converted successfully to draw level.


The Giallorossi charged back into the game and had a double chance moments later. Emerson’s fierce volley was fingertipped onto the post before Abbiati plucked Panucci’s header off the line.


The game turned around completely on 70 minutes with a curious piece of luck for the Rossoneri. Massimo Ambrosini’s totally free header took a decisive deflection off Zebina to leave his goalkeeper helpless.


Tomasson was forced off with a shoulder injury, so Andriy Shevchenko made a late appearance.


Roma were clearly in shock and soon after Serginho sprung the offside trap to slice past Pelizzoli.


It was an action-packed second half and Abbiati was again crucial on Totti’s bullet free kick, but was very shaky on another effort from the captain. Daniele De Rossi’s free header shaved the near post as Roma kept pushing.


In the final minute substitute Andriy Shevchenko sealed the humiliating scoreline with a wonderful goal. The Ukrainian took the ball past Panucci with his chest before a delicate lob left the ‘keeper stranded.

The second leg will be played at the San Siro on May 31.

Scorers: Totti 28 (R), Serginho pen 62, 73 (M), Zebina og 70 (M), Shevchenko 89 (M)


Roma: Pelizzoli; Panucci, Samuel, Zebina; Cafu (Guigou 84), Tommasi, Emerson (De Rossi 78), Dacourt, Candela; Totti, Cassano (Delvecchio 74)


Milan: Abbiati; Simic (Kaladze 69), Roque Junior, Laursen, Helveg; Brocchi, Redondo, Ambrosini; Serginho (Dalla Bona 84), Rivaldo; Tomasson (Shevchenko 71)

Ref: Paparesta

Appiah set for Milan?
20.5 || Seamus

Italian giants Milan are now favourites to sign Brescia midfielder Stephan Appiah this summer.

The Ghanaian was a target for Roma but they no longer seem to be interested after reaching an agreement with Leeds to complete the signing of Olivier Dacourt.

That has left Milan in pole position to swoop for the highly rated player who is actually owned by Parma.

The Gialloblu are willing to release the ace but only if they can bring in Simone Perrotta from Chievo Verona.

Coach Claudio Prandelli is keen on the Italian international and the two clubs are set to meet next week to start talks.

However, the 25-year-old has also been heavily linked with a move to Inter who are desperate to add him to their midfield alongside Cristiano Zanetti.

Appiah arrived in Italy in 1997 when he joined Udinese before moving to Parma in 2000. However, he only made 28 appearances in two seasons with the Gialloblu.

The Stadio Tardini outfit hope that the 22-year-old could be sold for around £4m after his sensational form for Brescia this term.

Coppa Italia Final First-Leg: AS Roma v AC Milan - match preview
20.5 || Seamus

Roma will be looking to steal some of AC Milan's thunder by winning the first round of their two-legged Coppa Italia final against the high-flying Rossoneri.

"Tuesday's game is very important for us," confirmed Roma boss Fabio Capello. "We wanted to lift the cup at the start of the season and we still do."

The Giallorossi, in fact, will want to conquer the Coppa Italia far more than they did before the 2002/03 campaign kicked-off since their bid for the Scudetto and Champions League trophy fell far short. Having begun the year with the highest of hopes, the capital club ultimately had to content themselves with a mid-table finish in the Serie A as well as a second group phase exit in Europe.

The Italian cup, therefore, represents Roma's final shot at glory. Capello does not, however, buy into the widely-held notion that AC Milan will present themselves as a less than formidable obstacle due to their concentration being gobbled up by the upcoming Champions League final against Juventus next week. "I know the Milan set-up well after my time there and they will want to win this trophy," insisted the former San Siro supremo. "I'm hoping that they will field a weakened side but I don't think that will happen. "Even if that proves the case," he added, "they have a big enough squad to suggest that whoever is selected will still guarantee that they will be competitive."

These are great times to be associated with Milan. The Rossoneri are on the verge of greatness once again. While they are still to master the concentration and intensity that is needed to win Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League triumphs would more than appease the club's demanding tifosi.

Milan are commonly regarded as the most attractive Italian side of the moment, but this has not come at the cost of defensive durability. The centre-back partnership of Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta is one of the best in the business, with the latter having a particularly impressive debut season in the red and black shirt. He excelled against Inter in that tense Champions League draw last week, and also impressed in Saturday's 3-1 win over Bologna that kept the pressure up on the Nerazzurri who sit in second place. Having said that, only a home collapse by Inter against Perugia will enable Ancelotti's team to secure second-place.

Milan surely deserve a trophy for their efforts this season. They've thrilled Europe with much of their football -remember wins away to Deportivo and Bayern Munich-while domestically they've been involved in some thrilling games. Having said that, for a side with such a high number of outstanding individuals, it really has been a team effort. The likes of Andriy Shevchenko, Filippo Inzaghi and Manuel Rui Costa have not hit their best form, but in different parts of the season they have each been effective. One last push, and the rewards could be considerable.

FORM GUIDE

Roma: Last Six Matches: WLWWWT The Giallorossi made it to the ultimate round of the Coppa Italia by seeing off their bitter city rivals Lazio in the semfinal. They were on a three-game winning streak in the league before being held to a scoreless stalemate away to Chievo last round.

Milan: Last Six Matches: LWTLTW The Rossoneri have achieved a mixed bag of results in Serie A. They've beaten Como and Bologna, but lost to AS Roma and Brescia. In the Champions League, two draws against arch-rivals Inter sent them through to the final against Juventus.


LATEST TEAM NEWS

Roma: AS Roma pair Francesco Totti and Cafu should be fit to face Milan in the Coppa Italia final tomorrow night. Totti has been out since April 26 with a muscle strain, while the Brazilian has not played since March 23. Meanwhile, Francesco Lima will miss the match with a twisted knee, while Vincenzo Montella is doubtful after sustaining a fractured nose against Chievo on Saturday.

Milan: Paolo Maldini, Gennaro Gattuso, Manuel Rui Costa, Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi have been left in Milan, with Ancelotti taking the decision to rest them ahead of next week's Champions League final. So a host of fringe players will get their chance at the Stadio Olimpico.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Cafu (Roma): The Brazilian wide-man will be the focus of much attention on Tuesday due to the ever-increasing rumours that he will be suiting up for Milan next season. Cafu's contract with Roma expires in the summer and it was originally thought that he would play out his career in the Orient but Milan's alleged offer of 2 million euros for one year appears to have caused him to change his mind.

Rivaldo (Milan): The former Barca star owes the Rossoneri a big performance after a disappointing season. No matter what he does in this match, however, he is unlikely to be selected for the final at Old Trafford.

Ancelotti hoping next year will be better for Rivaldo
20.5 || Seamus

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti has high hopes that Rivaldo can recover from a disappointing debut campaign at the San Siro to shine next season.

"Next year he can do very well," said Ancelotti. "So many champions have had difficulty in settling down when they have changed teams.

"He may have had some problems, but he is still in time to make an important contribution."

The player himself is looking forward to getting a run-out in tonight's Coppa Italia final against As Roma.

"This match against Roma is very important for myself and Milan," he was quoted as saying in La Gazzetta dello Sport. "We hope to do well at Olimpico and a good result could be fundamental for the return match on May 31. I want to raise the Italian Cup at San Siro in front of our public."

Milan in Moreno talks
20.5 || Seamus

Atletico Madrid striker Javi Moreno will hold talks with Milan regarding his future this week.

The Spanish international has been on loan at Atletico all season, after an unsuccessful campaign with the Rossoneri.

Milan have apparently had loan enquiries from Villarreal, Celta Vigo and Sevilla.

Ancelotti mixes it up
19.5 || Seamus

Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti has surprisingly rested some big name players for the first leg of the Coppa Italia Final against Roma.

The tactician today named a 20-man squad for the Olimpico clash but has left Paolo Maldini, Pippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf, Billy Costacurta and Manuel Rui Costa at home.

"Maldini has a slight muscle problem and Seedorf has a cold," stated Ancelotti. "While Costacurta, Rui Costa and Inzaghi will continue working at Milanello."

Ancelotti’s decisions have left many believing that the Rossoneri are not too concerned about winning the trophy with the Champions’ League Final approaching. A claim denied by the boss.

"We have the right stimulus and motivation to win both the Italian Cup and in Europe," maintained the former midfielder.

"That is our objective and I’m confident. After all we have worked very hard for the last 11 months for this and we don’t want to throw it all away now."

Milan’s opponents Roma haven’t had a great season by their standards but Ancelotti isn’t taking victory for granted.

"They are one of the most in form sides of the moment and have done well recently in the League," he added.

"But they will not be more motivated than us. The Coppa Italia is an important trophy and we will look to honour it.

"We go to the capital looking for victory because an away goal could be crucial for us over the two legs."

In the absence of Rui Costa, Brazilian ace Rivaldo is expected to feature despite his mediocre debut season in the Italian game.

"The stories claiming that Rivaldo will leave are not true," continued Ancelotti. "He will still be with us next season."

Brazilian ‘keeper Dida and Gennaro Gattuso are also ruled out of Tuesday’s game with injury.

Milan squad: Abbiati, Fiori, Venditti; Aubameyang, Helveg, Kaladze, Laursen, Nesta, Roque Junior, Simic; Ambrosini, Ba, Brocchi, Dalla Bona, Pirlo, Redondo, Rivaldo, Serginho; Shevchenko, Tomasson.

Pirlo warming up for Manchester
19.5 || Seamus

Andrea Pirlo is back on form for Milan and insists he’ll be the star of the Champions’ League Final against Juventus.


“Thankfully my knee injury was less serious that we at first thought,” revealed the creative midfielder, “and I finally feel just great.”


24-year-old Pirlo thought his season was over with a fractured kneecap, but further tests confirmed the training ground injury was a minor one.


“Carlo Ancelotti has given me the chance to get some games under my belt and recover fully, both physically and psychologically. I still have time to be at the very top of my game come May 28.”


The Old Trafford Final was also thought to be beyond Clarence Seedorf, but the Dutchman recovered in record time from a knee ligament injury.


Now Pirlo and Seedorf are likely to be in the starting line-up in Manchester, leaving Rivaldo and Fernando Redondo on the bench.


However, ex-Inter man Pirlo admits his knee is still not 100 per cent secure.


“I did suffer a small fracture and it is still a little painful,” he confessed, “but we will only decide at the end of the season whether it requires surgery.”

Rivaldo wants golden handshake
19.5 || Seamus

Milan are desperate to dump Rivaldo from their wage bill, but it’s reported he’ll demand £3m just to walk away from his contract.


The Brazilian has been an unmitigated flop since his summer arrival from Barcelona and the fans are eager to see a new man brought in.


It’s claimed he agreed to waive this fee when leaving Barca a year before his deal expired, but the World Cup winner is unwilling to repeat the gesture.


The Rossoneri are negotiating with Rivaldo through former star Leonardo, now part of the club’s directors.


However, newspapers in Italy suggest Milan would pay the £3m gladly as over the next two years of his contract the club is set to hand over £13m in wages, including taxes.


The Premiership seems to be a likely destination as Rivaldo has fans at Newcastle United and Tottenham.

Milan all white on the night
19.5 || Seamus

Milan are lobbying UEFA to play the Champions’ League Final in a white shirt due to superstitious reasons.


The Rossoneri won the competition three times in the 1990’s and wore the white strip in victories over Steaua Bucharest, Benfica and Barcelona.


The 1994 Final is perhaps the most legendary among fans, as Fabio Capello’s underdogs thrashed Romario’s Barcelona 4-0.


“The decision on strips is ultimately up to the referee,” explained organising director Umberto Gandini, “but we are doing everything we can to wear the white shirt at Old Trafford.”


Milan hope to wear their all-white away strip against Juventus on May 28, but they will probably be praying to avoid a penalty shoot-out.


Andrea Pirlo converted his eight spot-kick of the season in yesterday’s 3-1 win over Bologna.


However, his teammates are less convincing. Pippo Inzaghi has scored one penalty against Como, but missed two others.


Rivaldo has seen both his efforts saved, while Serginho missed his one attempt at a spot-kick.

Milan in for Cafu
19.5 || Seamus

Following the news that Cafu is unlikely to move to Japan due to the Sars virus, the player looks inclined to accept an offer from Milan.

The Brazilian is out of contract with AS Roma, and the Rossoneri's offer of 2 million euros for one year looks appealing.

The wing-back comes up against Milan in tomorrow's Coppa Italia final.

Referee picked for Coppa final's first leg
19.5 || Seamus

The first leg of the Coppa Italia final will be directed by Serie A 'referee of the moment' Paparesta. The linesmen will be Ivaldi and Copelli.

The match is set to take place Tuesday evening in the Stadio Olimpico.

Galliani denies world will watch a 'Friendly Final'
19.5 || Seamus

Although AC Milan and Juventus are known to have a very friendly relationship, AC Milan Vice President Adriano Galliani assured things will be different at Old Trafford next week, when the two Serie A giants will face off for the 2002/2003 Champions League trophy.

"Friends of Juve? You'll all see during the final...," said Galliani, alluding that there will be no love between the two teams during the course of the final.

"We have been in good terms with Juve since the Spring of 1994. That was when Giraudo called me up and told me that he would love to have a commercial relationship with us, as he enjoyed our club organization. Since then we discovered to have many things in common," added Galliani.

"However we will be fierce rivals during the final, where one of us will be happy, the other sad. Then everything will revert to the norm again," concluded Galliani .

Maradona betting on Milan
17.5 || webmaster

Legend of the game Diego Armando Maradona has placed his Champions’ League bet on Milan.

The former Napoli and Argentina hero is in Italy this week for a golfing holiday near Fiuggi.

He was spotted dining with another ex-Napoli player, Giuseppe Incocciati, and briefly spoke with the press.

"Milan are the favourites to beat Juventus at Old Trafford," commented the Pibe de Oro.

Maradona declined to explain his reasoning for this prediction ahead of the Champions’ League Final on May 28.

Dino Zoff was rather more talkative and claimed the first ever all-Italian Final is too close to call.

"Milan and Juve have equal odds on who will lift the trophy," commented the former Italy boss. "Neither of the two sides can be considered a favourite or an underdog."

Zoff also revealed he is considering a move abroad in order to continue his managerial career.

"Turkish outfit Fenerbahce have contacted me to offer a job," admitted the 1982 World Cup winner. "I am available."

AC Milan 3-1 Bologna - match report
17.5 || webmaster

Scorers: Pirlo pen 24 (M), Seedorf 50 (M), Inzaghi 66 (M), Meghni 68 (B)

Milan are now certain of a top four finish after this confident win over Bologna.

The risk of losing that Champions' League spot was considered too great, even a few days before Tuesday's Coppa Italia Final, so Carlo Ancelotti opted to play a first choice line-up. Only captain Paolo Maldini was rested.

Bologna have won just one away game all season. Julio Cruz and Tomas Locatelli were injured, so 22-year-old Giacomo Cipriani made a surprise start - his first in two years due to a serious knee injury.

The visitors had the first chance of the game when youngster Alessandro Frara drilled over the bar from a good position.

Milan responded with two intelligent Clarence Seedorf through balls for Andriy Shevchenko and Gennaro Gattuso, but Gianluca Pagliuca made good saves on both.

The Dutchman was certainly hard working and his strong run was ended by a Colucci foul. The referee pointed to the spot and Andrea Pirlo spooned the ball over Pagliuca with the cheekiest of penalties.

The Rossoneri kept pushing forward and Manuel Rui Costa dribbled past several players before firing over the bar.

Rivaldo stepped on to the field in order to rest Rui Costa for the second half.

Seedorf was man of the match and topped it with a wonderful goal, a fierce daisycutter that slotted into the far corner.

Pippo Inzaghi made it three on 66 minutes with another impressive strike. He sprung the offside trap and placed a fine lob over the helpless Pagliuca.

Not sixty seconds had passed before teenager Mourad Meghni had put Bologna back in it with a curling right-foot effort from just inside the box. It was the youth team player's second Serie A goal.

Marcello Castellini clattered into Inzaghi for another penalty. This time Inzaghi himself stepped up and saw his central spot-kick saved by Pagliuca.

Milan: Abbiati, Costacurta (Helveg 61), Roque Junior, Nesta, Kaladze; Gattuso, Pirlo, Seedorf; Rui Costa (Rivaldo 46); Inzaghi, Shevchenko (Redondo 77)

Bologna: Pagliuca; Zaccardo, Castellini, Paramatti (Terzi 78), Vanoli; Frara (Bellucci 54), Meghni, Amoroso, Colucci; Signori, Cipriani (Della Rocca 54)

Ref: Trefoloni

Missed penalty: Inzaghi 83 (M)

Milan block Abbiati sale
16.5 || webmaster

Goalkeeper Christian Abbiati will stay at Milan for the rest of his career according to Vice-president Adriano Galliani.

Rumours that he could leave have been rife this term after he lost his first team shirt to Brazilian international Dida.

But Abbiati came in for the injured South American on Tuesday and played a major part in the club’s qualification for the Champions’ League Final.

"He hasn’t received our backing just because of his performance against Inter," stated Galliani.

"I called him to pass on my congratulations and tell him that he will end his career here with us."

The recently capped Azzurri international, 26, has been linked with a number of clubs in the last few months.

Premiership outfit Arsenal are said to be interested, as are Parma and Serie B promotion hopefuls Sampdoria.

Reports suggest Abbiati will hold talks with the Rossoneri in the next few weeks regarding a new contract.

Gattuso wanted Real clash
16.5 || webmaster

Milan’s Gennaro Gattuso would have preferred to face Real Madrid in the Champions’ League Final – as they would have been easier to beat than Juventus.

"It wouldn’t have been so tough against the Spaniards because they are not exactly great in defence," said the midfielder.

"While Juve are a strong side that is full of champions. They were devastating in the Scudetto race and never give up until the final whistle blows."

The Bianconeri secured their place at Old Trafford thanks to an outstanding 3-1 victory at the Delle Alpi against Real.

"It would be useless to say that we don’t fear them but we have an equal chance of lifting the trophy," added the former Rangers man.

"But I dreamt of playing such an illustrious team while wearing the Rossoneri shirt. I’m honoured to be a part of this experience."

Although Juventus have been crowned champions of Italy for the second year running, Gattuso believes they shouldn’t be classed as favourites.

"They have a bit more than us in the mentality and temperament stakes but we have more technically gifted players and class," he continued.

"We want to enter the history books and achieve something important after four years in the shadows. We have a great chance of success."

No big players leaving Milan
15.5 || Seamus

Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani says that the club will not be letting go of any big stars this summer, meaning Rivaldo looks sure to be at the San Siro next season.

"I assure the fans: not one big player will leave," he was quoted as saying on the club's official site. "There will be a few additions: some of our players that are currently with other squads will return. I think it will be difficult to find a roster quite like ours."

He also added that goalkeeper Christian Abbiati would see out his career with the club.

"I assured Christian that he will remain at Milan for his entire career. We will never put him on the market."

Seedorf sets sights on trophy
15.5 || scharatz

Milan have just booked their place in the Champions’ League Final, but Clarence Seedorf and Paolo Maldini are already thinking ahead.


“A great team must not stop and celebrate after winning a semi-final,” commented the Dutch midfielder, “especially when it comes to your attitude.”


The Rossoneri were ecstatic after eliminating rivals Inter on away goals, 1-1 on aggregate.


Seedorf is an old hand at this competition and already won the European Cup with Ajax and Real Madrid. On May 28 he could become the first player ever to lift the trophy with three different clubs.


“Only a few hours have passed since we eliminated Inter, but we already have new motivation. Now it all begins again, the concentration, preparation and training must be geared towards winning Milan’s sixth European Cup.”


Paolo Maldini also won the trophy in 1994, when Fabio Capello’s Milan demolished favourites Barcelona 4-0.


“It doesn’t matter who the other Finalist will be,” said the veteran. “Real Madrid have a great history, whereas Juventus have the kind of character that never gives up.”


The press around Europe, and in Italy, was not particularly kind to the Rossoneri after their tight and tense derby result.


“We are going to the Final in Manchester,” insisted the captain, “because we deserve to be there.”


Fans provide colour in city classic
14.5 || Seamus

When Internazionale FC and AC Milan were drawn together in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, the hope was that they would serve up a classic.

Public undeterred
First time around, that never quite happened, last Wednesday's match having ended in stalemate. However, the Milan public were undeterred by the media criticism that followed the first leg and the day before this return match sold-out signs were put up outside the San Siro.

Used to disappointment
Even if the paper talk of impending doom at both clubs were true, this interest was no surprise. Inter supporters are used to disappointment. They would be the first to acknowledge their club's masochistic streak after Héctor Cúper's team this week were denied the Serie A title for the second year running . According to the Corriere dello Sport newspaper, even in southern Italy, where Inter have a particularly large fan base, Nerazzurri lovers knew better than to shout the odds this week.

Milan concern
Meanwhile, Milan fans had good reason for caution as well, the prospect of a third competitive season victory against the old enemy seeming too good to be true. Moreover, the prospect of defeat in 'il derbissimo' was too awful to contemplate. Inter have treated Milan's relegations from Serie A in 1980 and 1982 as badges of honour, and the Rossoneri were loathe to concede further ammunition in the bragging wars. Yet despite the uncertainties, they too bought up their 8,000-strong allocation.

Wide interest
Not surprisingly, the stadium was full with at least an hour to go before the main event. But then the 600 accredited journalists arriving for this match from such far reaches as China, Senegal, and the Sun (the British tabloid, that is), had been warned by the Gazzetta dello Sport to expect crowds long before kick-off. "Spanish and English fans arrive at their stadiums with five minutes to spare," it said, "we get there an hour before because we like the liturgy of the stadium."

Chorus of car horns
That liturgy began with a chorus of car horns in the streets around football's version of La Scala as 5pm approached. Other features included the sparklers that Inter fans held aloft on the Curva Nord as the players entered the arena, and the black and blue balloons they released into the balmy May sky. The Milan contingent on the Curva Sud also added colour, decked in uniform red.

Rivalry cooled
Remarkably, though, the rivalry between these clubs' supporters is said to be restrained, with arguments usually settled in bars and restaurants, not outside them. And they did not disappoint with their behaviour here: Milan fans were able to celebrate openly in Inter areas of the ground after Andriy Shevchenko struck the deciding goal in first-half stoppage time.

Tempers cool
Certainly, despite tonight's five bookings, tempers have cooled since the birth of this footballing feud. One match in 1915 was abandoned after a brawl involving players and spectators. Yet against a backdrop of improved relations, Inter and Milan later joined forces to stage an international club competition of their own - the Copa Mundalito - in the 1980s, when their fortunes on the European front were at a low ebb.

Upwardly mobile
Tonight though they had the perfect context for their 255th meeting and the only disappointment was that one side had to lose, Inter's late resurgence after Obafemi Martins's equaliser proving to be in vain. Inter's traditional nickname is 'bauscia', meaning 'nouveau riche' in the local dialect. However, it is Milan, originally the blue-collar team of workers or 'casciavit', who are the upwardly mobile force.

By Patrick Hart

"We deserved it," says Rui Costa
14.5 || Seamus

Milan playmaker Manuel Rui Costa said his side deserved to progress to the Champions League final after the 1-1 draw with Inter sent them through.


"A fantastic emotion, unique," he was quoted as saying on the club's official site. "We suffered in the second period but we had outdone Inter in the first. The team who deserved it most have gone through to the final."

Rossoneri stars raring to go
13.5 || scharatz

Milan’s players are confident tonight’s hard-fought semi-final puts them in good stead for the Final.

Andriy Shevchenko scored the crucial away goal that decided this tie, 1-1 with Inter on the night and on aggregate, and he dedicated it to Dynamo Kiev Coach Valery Lobanovski, who died last year.

“I thought of Lobanovsky today as he was a great Coach and a wonderful person. I wanted to dedicate this to him.”

Shevchenko scored the winner in first half stoppage time and described the move.

“I wanted to get into the box and dummy the defender,” he explained, “but I started slipping and saw the goalkeeper was going down. I managed to get a touch on the ball and lift it over him.”

Replays showed the reason Shevchenko fell was a foul from Ivan Cordoba.

“It could even have been a penalty as I was running towards goal and felt a touch on the back of my leg.”

The late siege almost put Inter through, but the Ukrainian hitman is sure justice was served.

“We controlled most of the game and it was inevitable Inter would put us under pressure at the end, but we deserved to go through.”

Shevchenko has no qualms on meeting Real Madrid or Juventus at Old Trafford.

“A Final is a one-off game, so whoever gets there has a fifty per cent chance of winning the trophy.”

Clarence Seedorf is a former Inter man and started his comments with criticism of the tense final minutes.

“We certainly need to improve on dealing with a lead in the future,” said the Dutchman. “With the quality at our disposal we should be able to take control.”

“Inter had a great second half and really pushed, while the tension rose and Milan almost stopped playing for a while there.”

“However,” he added, “over the two legs Milan created more chances and looking at our entire tournament it is clear that we deserve to be in the Final.”

Seedorf has already won the Champions’ League with Ajax and Real Madrid, so is confident going into the Final.

“Milan have beaten both Real and Juventus already this season. We will do the same at Old Trafford.”

“I am very happy to be a part of this wonderful team,” he concluded, “and we can go all the way and win this trophy.”

Christian Abbiati was thrown into the starting eleven after a season on the sidelines due to Dida’s injury.

“I have had a strange year and tried to help my teammates any way I could, including Dida, as it was his first season with Milan.”

“Perhaps others would not have acted in the same way,” added the goalkeeper, “but I always try to help others and kept quiet.”

The fans have shown a lot of respect for the youngster who recently made his Azzurri debut.

“I am overjoyed to have a place in the hearts of Milan fans and thank everyone who helped me reach this position.”

“At the final whistle I told Dida to win the trophy for all of us in the Final. This is a very close-knit group and that is probably why we are doing so well.”

Bitter Ancelotti bites back
13.5 || scharatz

Carlo Ancelotti has hit back at the Italian press and his critics after tonight’s hard-fought derby.

“We are all very happy and I thank all the players as we did so well in the Champions’ League this season,” began the Milan Coach.

The Rossoneri had the better of the first half, but were pushed back after the break.

“Our intentions were to play attacking football throughout, but after we took the lead Inter understandably poured forward to get back into it. We were a little shaken and tried to protect the result a bit too much.”

Hector Cuper’s tactical changes also had a clear effect on the match and performances of both sides.

“Obafemi Martins is a real problem for defences,” conceded Ancelotti, “and we were further damaged by Emre Belozoglu’s more central position in the second half.”

The tactician was overjoyed at reaching the Champions’ League Final, but took the opportunity to hit back at the Italian press.

“It was a great night for the fans, obviously more Milan than Inter, but I am a little sorry for the events leading up to it.”

“The press decided to make it a constant battle between myself and Hector Cuper on who was set to be sacked. He could easily have been in my position and I am disappointed by this situation that has been going on for some time.”

Ancelotti was expected to battle for the Scudetto this year, but even fourth place is at risk at this point of the campaign.

“Italy has two sides in the Champions’ League semi-final, but instead of supporting and praising the sport they took bets on who will be fired.”

“Cuper has done just as well as I have,” he concluded, “and don’t forget we are here whereas the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Arsenal are watching this game from home.”

Milan President Silvio Berlusconi, who is also the Italian Prime Minister, has been very vocal in his criticism of Ancelotti’s tactics this season.

“The final strain was almost unbearable,” said the patron, “but the final result was in our favour. I liked the Milan side in the first half, but we sustained a bit too much pressure after the break.”

“Inter are a tough side and very physical. They showed a great heart once again, but it was a wonderful spectacle in the San Siro.”

Champions League: Inter Milan 1:1 AC Milan
13.5 || webmaster

Scorers: Shevchenko 45 (M), Martins 84 (I)

Andriy Shevchenko's away goal has put Milan into their ninth Champions' League Final, but a late siege almost saw Inter qualify.
The first leg was 0-0 with Milan as a home game, so effectively a score draw would be enough to see the Rossoneri through on the away goals rule.

Both sides were missing players through injury as Christian Vieri was out with a knee injury, while Dida fractured the thumb on his left hand. Francesco Coco did not recover in time to start, so Hector Cuper confirmed his 3-5-2 tactics from the first leg with the return of the suspended Cristiano Zanetti.

Ex-Inter man Andrea Pirlo returned from several weeks out with a knee problem and took a surprise spot in midfield alongside Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf, moving Manuel Rui Costa to a more advanced role.

Paolo Maldini set a new record before the opening whistle with his 45th Milan derby appearance - beating ex-Inter captain Beppe Bergomi's record of 44.

Milan promised attacking football and had an aggressive start to the match, but the tension in the packed out San Siro could be cut with a knife. The pace of the game was very high throughout with barely moment to draw breath.

Andriy Shevchenko often moved out wide to pick up the ball and cut back for Gennaro Gattuso, but the midfielder's drive was well off target.

Hernan Crespo had Inter's first shot on goal on 13 minutes, but the weak effort was straight at Christian Abbiati. The Argentine had another opportunity to volley after a Sergio Conceicao cross flew over Alessandro Nesta, but Crespo misjudged the flight of the ball.

As with the first leg, Milan had the initiative and almost all the possession, but Inter had the chances.

On 22 minutes Francesco Toldo bravely leapt out to punch Shevchenko's cross off the foot of Pippo Inzaghi and accidentally collided with Ivan Cordoba.

Shevchenko went even closer moments later when he hooked down a long Paolo Maldini pass, but his angled drive shaved the far post.

There were timid penalty appeals on the half-hour mark for a Marco Materazzi shirt tug on Shevchenko, but the French referee waved play on.

The Nerazzurri slowly increased their influence as the first half wore on and it was a very open game.

Sergio Conceicao was at risk for this game after picking up an injury during the 1-1 draw with Parma on Saturday and was forced to wear heavy strapping after a collision with Gattuso.

The tension exploded before the break when Inzaghi chested down a through ball and saw Toldo come out to gather, but sparked a scuffle with his little kick on the back of Cordoba's ankle. The Milan striker was booked, along with Gattuso, and calm was restored.

Gigi Di Biagio was also shown the yellow card for a challenge from behind on Seedorf and will be suspended for the next game.

The game was already into first half stoppage time when the Rossoneri finally broke the deadlock. Shevchenko ran on to an intelligent Seedorf low pass and won a battle with Cordoba before driving into the roof of the net as he was slipping.

It was a crucial strike as it counts as an away goal, so the Nerazzurri are now forced to score twice or leave the competition. Shevchenko has now scored ten times against Inter in his Italian career.

Inter took it badly and another scuffle erupted moments later between Recoba and Alessandro Costacurta.

Cuper had to make changes and introduced Stephane Dalmat and teenage hitman Obafemi Martins in place of Di Biagio and the disappointing Recoba. Inter were forced to push forwards and that left Milan more space to play in, making for a more entertaining game.

Marco Materazzi was fortunate to escape unpunished when he was caught on camera striking Kakha Kaladze off the ball.

Javier Zanetti tried to go for glory with a powerful drive from 20 metres, but Abbiati got behind it securely.

Cristiano Zanetti put a dangerous cross into the centre and Abbiati dived on to the loose ball before Crespo could pounce from six yards.

On the counter-attack Shevchenko curled just wide of the far post, but there was tension when Javier Zanetti was felled for a free kick on the very edge of the box. Emre's angled effort was punched out with some difficulty and Sergio Conceicao blasted the loose ball wide from an excellent scoring position.

In a surprise move, Carlo Ancelotti opted to replace Rui Costa with holding midfielder Massimo Ambrosini, moving the team to a 4-4-2.

Emre took another set-piece from a more central position, but it was over the bar.

Mohamed Kallon scored in Saturday's draw with Parma and took the field in place of the increasingly isolated Crespo, giving Inter an all-African front pairing. The 'home' side poured forward with the Rossoneri using the counter-attack method.

Abbiati is still lacking in confidence after a season spent on the bench and punched away every set-piece, often not particularly effectively.

Milan knew they needed extra pace to take advantage of the situation and threw on Serginho for the final ten minutes. His first move was to curl a free kick just past the near post.

However, moments later Obafemi Martins put Inter back in with a late late goal. Just as they seemed to be giving up the 19-year-old sprinted on to a pass that took Maldini by surprise and did not hesitate to drill past Abbiati at the near post.

The 1-1 scoreline would still qualify Milan on away goals, but it gave Inter new confidence for the final push.

The tension was sky-high and Kallon almost took advantage of another lucky break, but it was deflected inches wide of an open goal.

On the resulting corner Cordoba's free header at the back post was pushed out instinctively by Abbiati.

It turned into a siege and even Toldo came up for the final corner kick, but it was not enough to grab a winner. Milan qualify for their ninth Champions' League Final and Inter end the season empty-handed.

Inter: Toldo; Cordoba, Materazzi, Cannavaro; J Zanetti, Conceiçao, Di Biagio, C.Zanetti, Emre; Recoba, Crespo (Kallon 70)

Milan: Abbiati; Costacurta, Maldini, Nesta, Kaladze; Gattuso, Pirlo (Brocchi 88), Seedorf; Rui Costa (Ambrosini 64); Inzaghi (Serginho 80), Shevchenko

Ref: Veissiere (Fra)

Champions League: Inter Milan vs. AC Milan
13.5 || scharatz

If the city of Milan seemed a madhouse in anticipation of the first-leg of the 'mother of all derbies', it was still less a collective basket-case than it has been this week, as each one of its football crazy inhabitants knows that they will be either in agony or ecstasy by the time all is said and done on Tuesday night.

While neutrals around the world seemed rather disappointed by the goalless draw between the two Milanese giants last week, it seems to have had exactly the opposite effect in Milan. The expectation is even greater and the stakes that much higher as Internazionale and AC Milan face off in an epic encounter that will put an end to one team's last shot at glory.

To call the first round of this titanic tussle boring is to have done the game a harsh injustice, as the skill, passion and drama on display that night left nothing to be desired. The match did lack for clear-cut goal-scoring opportunities, however, which will not be the case this time around according to Inter striker Hernan Crespo, who so nearly made a glorious goal out of a half-chance in the dying minutes of round one.

"It will be a well-balanced match just like the first leg was," he said, "but we will see a more spectacular game because you need to score to reach the final. There's no longer a point in being cautious."

Both teams watched this past weekend as Juventus clinched a record 27th title with two games in hand and will be focused on keeping their heads for this last burst of energy to win the ultimate honour European football bestows upon you. Inter will have home advantage with over 70,000 baying fans driving them on while Milan will know that each away goal they score will make Inter's task that much harder.

Most pundits agree that Hector Cuper will not be on Inter's bench come next season if the Rossoneri aren't overcome on Tuesday, as there can hardly be a more painful way to confirm a second season without silverware since he arrived from Valencia.

A good omen for the much maligned coach going into Wednesday's mega-clash is the fact that in their entire history Inter have only been knocked out of European cup competitions once after a scoreless first leg on the road.

LATEST TEAM NEWS

Internazionale: "Everyone keeps telling me that it is possible, but I have my doubts," said Hector Cuper on Sunday when pressed on whether the team's most prolific marksman Christian Vieri has a chance of winning his race for fitness. Should the Italian international fail to recover in time, the under-fire Argentinean tactician is expected to stick with his front pairing of Crespo and Recoba, though either Martins or Kallon could conceivably get the golden nod ahead of the misfiring Uruguayan.

There is good news to report from the Appiano in that tests have confirmed that Sergio Conceiçao did not fracture any ribs during the 2-2 tie against Parma on the weekend. Whether he will be fit enough to play remains to be seen, while there are also serious injury doubts over Coco. Definitely missing out through injury will be Serena, Beati, Ventola and Almeyda.

One card away from supsension: Cannavaro, Di Biagio, Materazzi, Morfeo, Pasquale, Toldo and Vieri.


AC Milan: Carlo Ancelotti rested most of his first-team for the trip to Brescia and paid the penalty as his side lost and slipped perilously close to Lazio in fourth spot. However, this will mean that Inzaghi, Shevchenko and Rui Costa should be well rested to do what will be most important for Milan in this second leg: score. Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini will return to the starting eleven and Costacurta and Kaladze will man the wings in a line-up similar to that of the first leg. The midfield however could see the introduction of Andrea Pirlo as the deep-seated playmaker alongside Gennario Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf. Ancelotti is still contemplating the inclusion of Rivaldo, and should the Brazilian be picked, he will play alongside Rui Costa, thereby relegating Andriy Shevchenko to the bench.

One card away from suspension: Serginho and Pirlo.

WHO'S HOT

Ivan Cordoba: It is perhaps unfair to single out a specific individual for praise from the Nerazzurri's stellar backline but the tough-tackling Colombian is certainly not undeserving of the distinction as Inter's most on-form player. Cordoba did not set a foot wrong against Milan last week and even somehow managed to make Shevchenko look downright lethargic on several occasions.

Gennario Gattuso (Milan): He was voted man of the match for his stunning effectiveness in the middle of the pitch and his passing proved to be a revelation. Gattuso even came close to scoring what would have been a wonderful goal. Milan's efforts in the second leg will be helped if this man can produce yet another lion-like performance in the middle of the park.

WHO'S NOT

Alvaro Recoba (Inter): Once again last week 'Il Chino' failed to shine when the chips were on the line. In fairness to Recoba he was struggling with an injury for much of the game but that wasn't yet the case when he failed to polish off an exquisite back-heel throughball by Crespo. Should Recoba disappoint again on Tuesday – if he start's that is – then the likelihood is great that he will be encouraged to leave in the summer in the case of a reasonable offer.

Andriy Shevchenko (Milan): Last week's game proved that Andriy is not at his best. The striker wasted chances he would have put away blindfolded in 2000. Sheva needs to raise his game for these coming games as they could well salvage Milan's season and make it all seem so worthwhile. However, in order to prove himself, he will first have to hope that he gets a start, which is currently under threat from Rivaldo, who has returned to full fitness.


PROBABLE LINEUPS

Internazionale (4-4-2): Toldo; J Zanetti, Cordoba, Cannavaro, Coco (Pasquale); Dalmat, Di Biagio, C Zanetti, Emre; Crespo, Recoba

AC Milan (4-3-1-2): Abiatti; Costacurta, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso, Pirlo, Seedorf; Rui Costa; Shevchenko, Inzaghi

Milan will attack says Carlo
13.5 || scharatz

Carlo Ancelotti insists that his Milan side will look to dictate their Champions’ League semi-final against Inter.

"We will not sit back and wait for Inter to attack us," stated the tactician. "It is our intention to play our own brand of football with calmness and determination."

The Rossoneri go into the game as slight favourites as a score draw at the San Siro on Tuesday will be enough for qualification.

"We’re in good shape and the defeat at Brescia won’t affect us," added the Coach. "The build up is pretty similar to the first leg game even if this is the match that really counts."

Milan are also advantaged by the fact that they have beaten their city rivals in both Serie A games earlier this term.

"In the previous derby ties we have been excellent in defence and haven’t conceded any goals," he added.

"But each game is different and can be decided by the smallest factor. Therefore there are no favourites as both sides are pretty equally matched."

Rumours in Italy suggest that Ancelotti could be facing the chop should they falter in Europe. But the former Juve boss is not too concerned.

"I’m not thinking about my job," he said. "My thoughts are only on the final. Anyhow I have a contract here until 2005."

Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf is also confident that his former club can be defeated. "We’ve always done well in the big games," said the Dutchman.

"We’ll look to give our very best and impose our possession football like we have done for the majority of the campaign."

Ancelotti has selected a 24-man squad for the game with his only problem concerning goalkeeper Dida.

The Brazilian damaged his thumb in the defeat at Brescia and is a major doubt. Christian Abbiati is ready to take the gloves.

Milan probable line-up: Abbiati; Costacurta, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Seedorf, Gattuso, Ambrosini; Rui Costa; Inzaghi, Shevchenko

Vieri out of Euro derby
12.5 || scharatz

Inter striker Christian Vieri has failed in his attempt to be fit for the Champions’ League semi-final against Milan.

Boss Hector Cuper revealed on Saturday that Vieri could be ready for a substitutes role but the forward has failed to prove his fitness.

Vieri picked up a knee injury in the 2-1 loss at Valencia three weeks ago and has only returned to light training over the past few days.

But Cuper has resisted the temptation of including the Italian international for the second leg after last week’s 0-0 draw at the San Siro.

Cuper will now probably field Hernan Crespo and Alvaro Recoba in attack, while Mohammed Kallon and Obafemi Martins will be on the bench.

Defender Francesco Coco and winger Sergio Conceicao are both included in the 19-man squad after recovering from injury.

However, both are not expected to start the game. Giovanni Pasquale is set to fill in for Coco, while Stephane Dalmat should start ahead of the Portuguese ace.


Goalkeepers: Toldo, Fontana.

Defenders: J Zanetti, Cordoba, Materazzi, Cannavaro, Vivas, Gamarra, Coco, Pasquale.

Midfielders: Conceicao, Di Biagio, Dalmat, C Zanetti, Emre.

Forwards: Kallon, Crespo, Recoba, Martins.

Max plots Inter defeat
12.5 || scharatz

Milan’s defeat at Brescia will not affect the Rossoneri in their game against Inter insists Massimo Ambrosini.

The two Milan clubs face each other at the San Siro on Tuesday in an attempt to qualify for the Champions’ League final.

"We certainly go into this derby game with disappointment from the Brescia defeat but we are focused and confident of victory," stated the midfielder.

"It is clear to everyone that our performance on Saturday was not good but that will not affect us.

"We have played some excellent stuff in the Champions’ League this season and we deserve to reach the Old Trafford final."

The 0-0 draw in the first leg seems to have made Milan the favourites as a score draw on Tuesday will see the Rossoneri qualify.

But the Italian international is aware that Inter will be tough to break down despite their poor performances of late.

"They may not be very entertaining to watch but they are certainly a side that battles. They have character and determination."

When asked what will be needed to beat their city cousins, Ambrosini seemed to have the appropriate answer.

"We need to play as a team," he stated. "When we did that earlier this term we beat some of the best sides in the world.

"Real Madrid, Deportivo, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Inter have all been beaten by us.

"When we play for the same cause then we can beat anybody. Obviously individuals can make the difference but our collective style remains our most dangerous weapon."

Maldini praises Milan mentality
11.5 || scharatz

Paolo Maldini maintains the side with the mental strength to deal with pressure will win the Euro derby on Tuesday.


“This is going to be a very special occasion for every player,” said the Milan captain. “Last week I was very emotional and I will be in the second leg too.”


The veteran has lifted every trophy in his club career with the Rossoneri and few know more about dealing with the European stage.


“I don’t want to make predictions,” said the now retired international, “but I can say that the team with the most relaxed psychological state will reach the Final.”


The Rossoneri are considered the favourites following the 0-0 first leg draw, as even a score draw will see them through on the away goals rule.


Both San Siro sides had disappointing results at the weekend. Inter could not beat Parma, while Milan were defeated by mid-table Brescia.


“I am split between the disappointment of that game and the emotion of playing for a spot in the Champions’ League Final,” he told the TG5 news programme.


“It’s an experience I have been through many times before and at this stage of my career I really could not ask for more.”


Manuel Rui Costa was rested for the trip to Brescia so he can be on top form for the Milan derby.


“Many of us in the squad have never reached this stage,” noted the ex-Fiorentina man, “and it is the game of my career.”


The Portuguese international has rarely been given the opportunity to shine on such an important European stage.


“We are one step away from reaching the Final, the most important result at club level. We will not disappoint.”


Coach Carlo Ancelotti seems intent on fielding Kakha Kaladze and Alessandro Costacurta in defence, while Massimo Ambrosini returns to partner Gennaro Gattuso in midfield.


Clarence Seedorf and Rui Costa would provide the service for Andriy Shevchenko and Pippo Inzaghi, although Serginho is battling for a starting place.

Brescia 1:0 AC Milan - report
10.5 || scharatz

Appiah 84 (B)


Stephan Appiah's splendid goal has kept Brescia in Serie A and perhaps ended Milan's hopes of taking second place.

Milan were chasing Inter's second automatic Champions' League qualifying spot, but faced a tricky trip to Brescia.

The Rondinelle already held them to a 0-0 draw at the San Siro and needed just a handful of points to be mathematically safe from the drop. Milan rested several top stars ahead of the Euro derby, including Manuel Rui Costa, Andriy Shevchenko, Pippo Inzaghi and Gennaro Gattuso.

Serginho brought the first save out of Matteo Sereni with an angled drive.

Brescia slowly took more control and after Stephan Appiah failed to make the most of a Pep Guardiola centre, Roberto Baggio's free kick shaved the woodwork.

Ghanaian international Appiah had a better attempt before the break saved by Dida, but Milan had the clearest chance in the final minute of the first half with Massimo Ambrosini's header and a reaction save.

Brescia had an excellent scoring opportunity at the dawn of the second half, but Ighli Tare nodded over the goal from close range.

Rivaldo fired over the bar and Ambrosini had a good chance deflected wide, while Filippini somehow failed to score on Baggio's assist.

Milan seemed sluggish and Brescia deservedly took their lead with a stunning Appiah strike six minutes from time. The ex-Parma midfielder controlled Tare's cross with his right foot and fired in to the far corner with his left.



Brescia: Sereni; Martinez, Dainelli, Petruzzi, Bilica, Seric; Filippini, Guardiola, Appiah; Baggio; Toni (Tare 46)

Milan: Dida; Simic, Laursen, Roque Junior, Kaladze (Maldini 46); Brocchi, Ambrosini, Redondo (Pirlo 67), Serginho (Shevchenko 67); Tomasson, Rivaldo

Ref: Collina

Brescia vs AC Milan - preview
10.5 || scharatz

Milan are just two points adrift of second place, but must travel to giant-killers Brescia. The Rossoneri are back in the chase for that second automatic Champions’ League qualifying spot and slowly recovering some of their injured stars.

Andrea Pirlo should be back in the line-up for this game along with Clarence Seedorf, but some others may be rested for the second leg of their Euro semi-final with Inter. Rivaldo is steadily improving and could be given a deeper role behind the front two.

Brescia already held Milan to a goalless draw at the San Siro in December and have earned a reputation as giant-killers after taking points off Juventus, Roma, Lazio and Chievo.

Roberto Baggio is in inspirational form but the midfield is their real strength this season and will prove an intriguing test for the Rossoneri. Francelino Matuzalem is suspended, but Markus Schopp returns from a bout of the flu.



Brescia: (Probable) Sereni; Martinez, Petruzzi, Dainelli; Schopp, Filippini, Appiah, Guardiola, Seric; Baggio, Toni

Milan: (Probable) Dida; Simic, Laursen, Nesta, Maldini; Gattuso, Ambrosini, Brocchi; Rivaldo; Inzaghi, Shevchenko


Ancelotti denies Milan row
10.5 || scharatz

Milan can still aim for second place and the Champions' League Final, but reports claim Carlo Ancelotti had a furious row with the club.


“Nothing unusual happened during Wednesday’s semi-final against Inter,” assured the tactician.

“I like to exchange ideas with the President and directors, but unfortunately we don’t always agree.”


President Silvio Berlusconi – who is also the Italian Prime Minister and a media magnate – reportedly stormed into the dressing rooms at half time and demanded that Serginho be introduced for the second period.


This is not the first time that Berlusconi has made his football opinions known, as he dubbed then-Italy Coach Dino Zoff “amateurish” for not man-marking Zinedine Zidane in the Euro 2000 Final with France.


The Milan President has also engaged in more rows with Ancelotti this season, publicly demanding a system with two strikers upfront.


“The pressure I am under here,” continued Ancelotti, “is the same that I had at Parma or Reggiana in my past. It is all about choosing players and if you make a mistake then you will regret that.”


Serginho was introduced as a late substitute in the Euro derby, but could not turn around the 0-0 scoreline.


“It is not difficult for me to leave out Serginho because I work with the lads every day and know their fitness levels. I was happy with my choices on Wednesday and after a few adjustments the team did very well.”


The Coach faces yet more pressure to perform today when his men travel to Brescia.


“At this moment in time,” he noted, “we must concentrate on this Serie A match. There are few games left to try and catch Inter in second place.”


The Rossoneri are still on track for the Old Trafford Final, but are also just two points adrift of the second automatic Champions’ League qualifying spot.


“The points are what count against Brescia, although obviously I would like a good performance to go with it.”


Ancelotti is expected to rest several top stars for the Inter game, including Gennaro Gattuso and Manuel Rui Costa.


Galliani: Milan are favourites
8.5 || scharatz

Vice-president Adriano Galliani believes Milan are in pole position to reach the Champions’ League Final.

The Rossoneri were held to a 0-0 ‘home’ draw against Inter on Wednesday but the Rossoneri official was left satisfied.

"With this result we go into the second leg with a slight advantage," he stated. "The return match should be a great game.

"In many ways it will be like a final itself seeing as we both share the San Siro. The only difference is that if it ends in a score draw we will go through."

Milan did seem to be the more dangerous side last night and did have a number of opportunities to break the deadlock.

Yet Galliani surprisingly maintained that the draw was the right result. "Both sides made errors in front of goal," he added. "It’s best to look forward and not back."

The two teams meet again in Milan next Tuesday. The winners will face either Real Madrid or Juventus in the Old Trafford final.

Ancelotti: We were the better side
8.5 || scharatz

Carlo Ancelotti was disappointed to come away from tonight’s match goalless after having the better of the play.


“There are certainly regrets over this 0-0 result,” commented the Milan Coach, “after a clear domination of possession, especially in the second half.”


“It was a good performance from my men and we definitely deserved to score a goal.”


The Rossoneri had by far the better of the overall play, but Inter were able to create the clearest scoring opportunities.


“The tie is in the balance and it will be until the final whistle of the second leg,” he continued.


Ancelotti also revealed how Hector Cuper’s tactics stumped him to begin with.


“Inter’s new set-up forced us to play in a different style to the one we are accustomed to. At the start we had trouble closing down spaces, but worked out a system and took control after the break.”


The ticket to the Champions’ League Final remains open to both sides, but Ancelotti emerges from this match with confidence.


“Regardless of who wins this semi-final,” he concluded, “I think Milan were the better team in this first leg.”


Gennaro Gattuso was in some ways man of the match for Milan and his tireless running forced a substitution with cramp.


“It always feels good to play in a derby, let alone a Champions’ League semi-final,” noted the midfielder.


“The important thing was not to concede away goals, but the performance was good and we hope to do even better in the second leg. Anything can still happen.”


Clarence Seedorf was coming face to face with his former teammates and hopes to win his third Champions’ League trophy.


“Inter think destructively and Milan think constructively,” pointed out the Dutchman. “We have some great build-up play and that is just our style.”


“The Nerazzurri were more prudent, but they will be more anxious in the next game as they cannot afford to give away a goal.”


“I think we played a good game and controlled almost all of it. Both sides had good chances, but Milan had the best opportunities and were unable to hit the back of the net.”


Seedorf made a lightning recovery after damaging knee ligaments during the quarter-final at Ajax.


“We are convinced that we were the better team and can certainly progress to the Final.”


“It is important to keep a clean sheet as next week our goals will count double, so this is a good result.”


Champions League: AC Milan 0:0 Inter Milan
7.5 || scharatz

It's all still to play for as Inter's defence held out against Milan's flair in an intense and entertaining Euro derby.
The San Siro was packed out with pride, a spot in the Champions' League Final and the fate of their Coach at stake.

This was only the second ever local derby in the European Cup following Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid in the 1958-59 semi-final. The Rossoneri were the most on form heading into the game, but in a derby that usually means very little. Milan are the home side so any Inter goals would count double.

Milan welcomed back Clarence Seedorf, Kakha Kaladze and Gennaro Gattuso from injury to make up for the suspended Massimo Ambrosini. Carlo Ancelotti aimed to entertain with Manuel Rui Costa behind front two Andriy Shevchenko and Pippo Inzaghi.

Inter were the away team and Hector Cuper opted to push Javier Zanetti in to a more advanced midfield role with the option to come back in to a five-man defence. Cristiano Zanetti is suspended.

Christian Vieri is out injured, but Hernan Crespo is returning to form after three months on the sidelines. Alvaro Recoba and Emre Belozoglu offered support.

Milan had a strong start and grabbed two corners within the first two minutes, but Sergio Conceicao had the first relatively tame shot on goal.

The best chance came on six minutes when Crespo and Recoba combined, but the Uruguayan fired a weak effort at Dida with only the 'keeper to beat.

Clarence Seedorf performed well on the left flank and his dangerous cross was cleared with some difficulty from the feet of Christian Brocchi and Pippo Inzaghi.

Moments later Francesco Toldo was forced to slap away a floating Shevchenko cross-cum-shot that was heading for the top corner.

Inter put together a well-worked move on 17 minutes with Emre and Conceicao at the heart of it, but Recoba's header was straight at Dida.

As the first half wore on the Nerazzurri continued to soak up pressure only to strike hard on the counter-attack, while the defence often caught Shevchenko and Inzaghi offside.

Ivan Cordoba was kept busy and acrobatically hooked away a Kakha Kaladze cross as it went towards Inzaghi.

There was controversy before the break when Brocchi's deflected shot ran into the path of Manuel Rui Costa, but the linesman flagged Inzaghi offside. The striker could have been considered inactive.

Milan came out fighting for the second half and Rui Costa's fierce drive from 20 metres was just off target.

Their best chance of the game so far arrived on 49 minutes. Kaladze charged through several defenders and cut in for Shevchenko's touch, but Toldo made a desperate close-range reaction save.

Gennaro Gattuso tore shreds into the Inter defence only for Inzaghi to slip as he teed up the shot.

Moments later Inzaghi stayed on his feet for a fine volley, but Toldo was equal to it.

The pressure continued and Rui Costa found Shevchenko in acres of space, but his cut across for Inzaghi found an extraordinary Cordoba backheel clearance.

Gattuso was certainly taking this fixture personally and his powerful drive from 23 metres was palmed out by Toldo at full stretch.

Hector Cuper made the first substitution by introducing ex-Milan winger Andres Guly and Mohamed Kallon for the disappointing Conceicao and Recoba.

The 'home' side pressed Inter back into their own half and Seedorf fired another long-range effort just over the bar before he curled a Shevchenko cutback wide.

Inter remained dangerous on set-pieces and Cordoba nodded a corner kick just wide.

Milan injected some more pace with Serginho, a man who often does well in the derby and scored the winner in their first Serie A encounter this season, for Cristian Brocchi.

Serginho made an immediate impact with a good shot from the edge of the box, but Toldo got behind it.

Gattuso ran himself ragged and was forced off with cramp, so Fernando Redondo stepped on to the field along with Rivaldo. Teenager Obafemi Martins was set to give Inter more pace in the final minutes, but an injury to Francesco Coco forced a change of plans.

Di Biagio tried to score a spectacular effort from 30 metres, but although very powerful the central shot stung Dida's palms.

In the final minute Crespo sprung the offside trap and lobbed the ball over Dida, but Rossoneri fans held their breath as it dipped inches over the open goal.

It ends goalless and everything will be decided in the second leg next week.


Milan: Dida; Costacurta, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso (Redondo 77), Brocchi (Serginho 73), Seedorf; Rui Costa; Shevchenko (Rivaldo 80), Inzaghi

Inter: Toldo; Cordoba, Materazzi, Cannavaro, Coco (Pasquale 84); J Zanetti, Conceiçao (Guly 66), Di Biagio, Emre; Crespo, Recoba (Kallon 71)

Ref: Ivanov (Rus)

Maldini savours 'special' blend
7.5 || Seamus

Despite having won six Italian Scudettos, as many European trophies and appeared in both the final of the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship, AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini has acknowledged that there is something "even more special" about his side's UEFA Champions League semi-final against Internazionale FC.

Milan gripped
Tonight will see two clubs from the same city meet in the last four of club football's greatest competition for the first time since the 1958/59 semi-final between Real Madrid CF and Club Atlético de Madrid, and the 34-year-old Maldini, who tonight equals Giuseppe Bergomi's record of 44 derby appearances, has urged his team-mates to maintain their composure ahead of a match which has not only gripped Europe's premier footballing city but Italy as a whole.

’Worked up’
"A derby against Inter is always an extraordinary event but the fact that we now play them with a Champions League final place at stake makes it even more special," said Maldini, who played a record 126 times for Italy prior to retiring after last year's World Cup. "It is easy to get too worked up about these games, but we have to stay calm and try to play our own game. Too much tension can do bad things to you."

Recent victories
Tension is certainly rife as the red and blue halves of Milan prepare to meet for the 254th time. Milan, coached by Carlo Ancelotti, who won European Champion Clubs' Cups alongside Maldini in 1988/89 and 1989/90, have won the last two of those in Serie A this season, 1-0 both home and away. Maldini, also a Champions League winner in 1993/94, is adamant Milan can continue that streak in their home first leg.

Playing for second
"We are all very aware of how important this game is and you just have to spend some time in the city to sense that," he said. "We believe in our own abilities and we are convinced that we are not inferior to Inter in any way. We have beaten them this season, but they are ahead of us in the league." Inter have 60 points from 31 matches, Milan 58. With three games remaining both are realistically vying for second place behind Juventus FC.

Born in Milan
Maldini made his Rossoneri debut against Udinese Calcio in January 1985, and has subsequently played more than 500 league matches for the club and 122 in European competition, a European record. Being one of only two likely Milan-born starters on the pitch, along with team-mate Cristian Brocchi - Christian Abbiati and Alessandro Costacurta were both born on the fringes of the city - Maldini has extra motivation to succeed.

Maldini 'proud'
He said: "I am proud to have played for this club so long and that I will be able to represent AC Milan in a game like this. I am honoured to be in this situation and we will do everything we can to reach the final. Ahead of a semi-final there is always the same buzz. You know you are very close to reaching the final but there is no way you can relax because then you will be punished."

Coaches call for calm
7.5 || Seamus

AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti knows just how important this week's UEFA Champions League semi-final against Internazionale FC is to the football-loving people of Milan.

'Try to stay calm'
The city rivals meet for the first time in European competition in Wednesday's first leg at the San Siro, and Ancelotti admitted the attendant hype had not helped his preparations. He told an eve-of-match press conference: "Any Champions League semi-final is important but playing against Inter makes it even more special. There will be a lot of pressure on both sides and we have to try to stay calm. It won't be easy but we have to try. It is a very important game for the people of the city, but also for me, for the players, and for the club."

Common ground
Both legs will be played at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium the two clubs call home. As the host team on Wednesday, Milan will be able to count on the bulk of the support, although Ancelotti insisted this would count for nothing on the night. "When you get this far in a competition, it doesn't matter where you play," he said. "We realise we are the home team and we will have to be careful not to concede an away goal as this could prove decisive in the end."

'Honour the occasion'
As well as being a good advertisement for Milanese football, the tie could also showcase the best of the Italian game at a time when Serie A clubs have been criticised for their negative style of play. Ancelotti said: "We want to play well and we want to honour the occasion with a good performance. However, our priority has always been to win games and avoid conceding goals."

By Marcus Christenson

Champions League: AC Milan vs. Inter Milan
7.5 || scharatz

If the San Siro stadium were a living being, it would be almost sick with excitement. For, Wednesday evening will see one of the grandest clashes ever played in what is considered by many to be the most awe-inspiring stadium on the planet. Not only will Milan's two great clubs, AC Milan and Internazionale, contest each other in yet another splendid derby, but this time the first-ever European "Derby della Madonnina" will see the two sides vying for a berth in the greatest fixture on the football calendar: The UEFA Champions League Final.

Only a miracle will prevent Juventus from winning the Scudetto again this season so the stakes ahead of what is being billed in the Italian media as the "mother of all derbies" could hardly be higher. While Milan feel confident about beating Roma to the Italian Cup, that already dubious trophy would seem downright laughable if their deadly city rivals were to end up parading club football's most coveted piece of silverware down the main streets of Milano.

AC Milan have had a wonderful journey to the semi-finals. The five-time European champions won both the Group stages with two games to spare and produced some exhilarating football and tremendous results along the way. They crushed Deportivo 4-0 away from home and did the double over Bayern München. This was soon followed by a magnificent 1-0 win over Real Madrid at the San Siro and then a vengeful defeat of Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalen (Milan had previously lost 4-0 there in the UEFA Cup semi-final of 2002). They did leave it a little late in the quarterfinal fixture against Ajax, but Filippo Inzaghi's inspired injury time strike - which was officially credited to Tomasson - seemed to make it all worthwhile.

Internazionale, on the other hand, had to rely on the heroics of a little known Nigerian teenager just to make it to the quarterfinals and then had their Italian international shotstopper to thank for spectacularly securing their passage into the final-four. Obafemi Martins came through huge for the Nerazzurri - at a time when hardly anyone outside the blue-and-black side of Milan had ever heard his name - by producing a match-winning performance against Bayer Leverkusen on the final day of the second group phase. One month later, and it was Francesco Toldo's turn to write himself into Inter folklore by playing the lead role in a highway robbery which Valencians are still trying to get over.

Had those two wildly contrasting characters not came through in the clutch then Hector Cuper would surely be out of job, as performance-wise he has not even come close to getting the best out of what had promised to be one of the most entertaining teams in world football.

The Argentinean tactician's notorious allergy towards risk-taking seems to be worsening and it is growing increasingly apparent that Inter supremo Massimo Moratti has begun to see him as a scorn rather than a saviour. The shady-looking business tycoon will undoubtedly be singing his coach's praises again if he gets them to Manchester in late May but should the Red Devils come out trumps after this epic two-legged encounter then Cuper will almost certainly have to spend his summer days handing out resumes.

LATEST TEAM NEWS

AC Milan: Carlo Ancelotti is slowly but surely recuperating his injured players. Manuel Rui Costa, Rivaldo, Paolo Maldini, Kakha Kaladze and Rino Gattuso have all returned to first team action. However, the biggest boost comes from the return of two players who had earlier been ruled out for the remainder of the season. Clarence Seedorf has recovered from his knee ligament injury and played a small role in weekend Serie A action, whilst Andrea Pirlo is also all but ready to make his comeback after suffering from a fractured knee-cap. Doubts however still surround the participation of 'derby-killer' Serginho. The Brazilian fell victim to a crude challenge from Ivan Cordoba the last time these two sworn enemies met a few weeks ago and has failed to recover from the injury.

Ancelotti is expected to start with Shevchenko and Inzaghi up front with Rui Costa replacing Rivaldo as the playmaker. Clarence Seedorf and Gattuso will pair up in midfield alongside either Andrea Pirlo or Cristian Brocchi. Dario Simic on the right and Kakha Kaladze on the left complement the barbican central defence composed of Nesta and Maldini.

Inter: The Nerazzurri are still struggling to come to grips with the loss of their most lethal striker Christian Vieri, who damaged ligaments in his right knee in the quarter-final away to Valencia. Batistuta is cup-tied and Kallon is still injured which means that Inter have less depth than they would wish in the offensive department, though most coaches would kill to be able to call on Crespo, Recoba and Martins.

Internazionale's problems are not limited to their frontline, however, as their tough-tackling midfielder Cristiano Zanetti is suspended for the first-leg while Dalmat, Okan, Serena, Ventola, Beati and Almeyda continue are all out injured.

FORM GUIDE

AC Milan - last 6 (all comps): WWLWLW

AC Milan have lost two of their last four games, one a rather poor home defeat to Empoli, the other a more undeserved one away to Roma. But, Ancelotti's men have been stellar in all competitions at the San Siro. The defeat to Empoli was their first home defeat in the league and they have won both the derbies against Inter this year with the score of 1-0. The return of several injured players has also contributed to a boost in morale, which was evident in the 2-0 win over Como this weekend. The win puts Milan back in contention for a second place finish, which is now just a further 2 points away in the form of Inter.

Inter - last 6 (all comps): WLWLDD

It has been a long while since Inter last managed to look like world-beaters. Their failure to do better than a 1-1 tie at home to Lazio a fortnight ago means that their last remaining Serie A games revolve around defending second place rather than toppling Juve from the summit. Their dramatic loss of interest in the domestic competition was there for everyone to see in Bergamo on the weekend as a second-string side often looked to be just going through the motions during the 1-1 draw against Atalanta.

WHO'S HOT

Alessandro Nesta (Milan): Nesta is back to his very best…there is no doubt about that. Week after week, the Italian international keeps putting in dazzling displays at the back of the field. But, what is more noticeable is that the man who never scored any goals has now scored two in the space of just a couple of weeks. His crucial winner in the Coppa semis was followed up with a delicious finish against Como this weekend. Can he leave his mark in the Champions League as well? Millions of Rossonero fans around the world are hoping he will…

Hernan Crespo (Inter): The Argentinean bomber was tearing up the scoring charts – particularly that of the Champions League - before his campaign was cruelly interrupted by injury but thankfully for Inter fans he has picked up right where he left off. He scored a last-gasp winner just minutes into his comeback game against Brescia two weeks ago, then set up Vieri for a crucial strike against Valencia and swooped for Inter's only goal in the subsequent game against Lazio. The former Parma ace most likely would have made it four-out-of-four had he not been rested at Atalanta on the weekend. The stage is thus set for a magnificent battle between Nesta and Crespo, who became good friends during their shared time at Lazio but will undoubtedly look the fiercest of adversaries for the 180 minutes+ of this scrumptious semifinal showdown.

WHO'S NOT

Andriy Shevchenko (Milan): Rivaldo is not the only Milan player not at this best. While Shevchenko keeps working hard, he is not doing what he is best known to do: put the ball in the back of the net. The Ukrainian once so feared by Inter for repeatedly punishing them is surely a shadow of his year 2000-self. But, Inter should not take things for granted…for as the good ol' saying goes: Cometh the hour…cometh the man.

Alvaro Recoba (Inter): 'El Chino' is one of football's great enigmas as he alternates - seemingly at random - between looking one of the best players on the planet and a bumbling bumpkin. His last couple of games have fallen into the latter category but his teammate Marco Materazzi, for one, still has ultimate faith in the moody Uruguayan. "I'd bet on Recoba coming good in these derbies because the talent of first-rate players like him really can make the difference," the former Perugia centre-back boldly predicted. "It would be the definitive coming of age for him and he would give us all a great boost."

PROBABLE LINEUPS

AC Milan (4-3-1-2): Dida; Simic, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Brocchi, Gattuso, Seedorf; Rui Costa; Shevchenko, Inzaghi

Inter (4-4-2): Toldo; Cordoba, Materazzi, Cannavaro, J. Zanetti; Coco, Di Biagio, Emre, Conceicao; Crespo, Recoba.

Milan clubs face derby with a difference
6.5 || Seamus

There are few things in football that Paolo Maldini has not experienced but even the AC Milan captain has to concede that Wednesday's derby with Inter Milan in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final will be a unique occasion.


Counting all competitions it will be the 254th Milan derby meeting but never has the clash been in the spotlight as much as this game and never have the stakes been so high for both clubs.


"It will be a strange event -- a foreign referee, played over two games, 180 minutes rather than 90 minutes in the championship," 34-year-old Maldini, who played in his first derby back in 1985, told website Goalcity.


"We have played them over two-legs before in the Italian Cup of course but I would be lying if I said this wasn't an occasion to savour," added the defender who is his country's most capped player of all time.


The Milan derby has had a vital say in the outcome of several Italian championship races but this time the prize is a place in the May 28th Champions League final in Manchester against either fellow Italians Juventus or defending European champions Real Madrid.


Few would like to bet on the outcome of the two games at the San Siro stadium that both clubs call home but Maldini says with so much at stake total commitment is guaranteed.


CHARACTER NEEDED


"We have to approach Wednesday's game simply as if it was the final itself. It would be unforgivable to play without character in this match but knowing my team mates as I do that is not something I am even willing to consider," he said.


Milan have enjoyed the better of the meetings in recent years and won both derbies in Serie A this season but Inter captain Javier Zanetti, the club's longest serving player, says past form will count for little.


"Everyone has Milan down as favourites but I don't see such a big difference between the two teams. We didn't deserve to lose those games against them this season.


"This time we won't let our fans down though, we will fight from the first minute until the last. I am convinced that you win derbies by heart," said the Argentine.


It is not only form that points towards Milan having the advantage -- while Carlo Ancelotti's side have all their key players available, Inter will be without their top scorer in Serie A this season, burly striker Christian Vieri who is sidelined with a knee injury.


Inter coach Hector Cuper is expected to field fellow Argentine Hernan Crespo in attack along with another south American, Uruguayan Alvaro Recoba.


Cuper's main problem is in midfield where Cristiano Zanetti is suspended and his most likely replacement, Frenchman Stephane Dalmat is not at 100 percent.


Milan have been boosted by the return from injury of midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf although the former is likely to start on the bench.


Ancelotti will have to decide whether to stick with his preferred option of Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi in attack with Rui Costa operating behind them or whether to give space to Brazilians Rivaldo or Serginho.


The pace and dribbling of Serginho has troubled Inter in derby games over the past three seasons and the little winger is likely to feature at some stage in the match.

By Simon Evans

Milan gripped by derby fever
6.5 || Seamus

With a place in Europe's most prestigious final at stake, it's no wonder the Champions League semi-final between arch city rivals Inter and AC Milan is being billed as the mother of all derbies.

AC Milan play host in Wednesday's first leg at their shared San Siro stadium, while Inter will be the home team in the second leg the following Tuesday.

The winner of the tie will meet either Italian rivals Juventus or holders Real Madrid in the final at Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium.

Milan's Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, who is expected to play some part having made a swift recovery from knee ligament damage, said the game is keeping him awake at nights.

"Everyone lives for moments like this. I can't sleep," said the player who was signed from Inter.

"These are great times. It will be an unforgettable semi-final and hopefully it will end in victory for us."

Seedorf said he was expecting an open game rather than a midfield scrap, even with plenty riding on the outcome.

"I don't think it will be a midfield battle, in the previous derbies it didn't happen," said the former Real Madrid star.

"(Inter coach Hector) Cuper could make some changes, but I don't think he will give up on his 4-4-2 formation.

"Against Inter we have always broken down the flanks and taken advantage of the space they have allowed us."

Inter's Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Recoba is equally excited about the tie, which could have sold the San Siro out five times over.

"Few people have the chance to playing a derby with a Champions League final at stake," he said.

"We are aware of how important these two matches are. You can't top playing in these matches."

Recoba believes Milan start as slight favourites because of their form in earlier rounds, but was upbeat about Inter's chances.

"Perhaps they are favourites, and I say that because Milan reached the semi-finals by playing a bit better than us," he said.

"But in the derby that counts for nothing. When the referee blows the whistle everything is even. Then we will see who wins."

Milan's central defender Alessandro Nesta, who has played a pivotal role in helping his side reach the last four, says the two-legged derby is the highlight of his career so far.

"Many of the players, including me, have never reached this stage before and we will give 100 per cent effort to reach the final," said the Italy international.

"This is a new experience for me and I'm loving every minute of it.

"Playing Inter is always tense. This is a massive, massive game for both sides."

Inter are without leading goalscorer Christian Vieri after the Italy international damaged ligaments in his right knee in the quarter-final against Valencia, while combative midfielder Cristiano Zanetti is suspended.

AC Milan's midfield will be weakened by the loss of Massimo Ambrosini, who like Zanetti is serving a one-match suspension.

Milan's legendary defender Franco Baresi believes the contest could be decided in Wednesday's first leg.

"The first match is vital and Milan must make sure not to concede a goal," he said.

"Even a 1-0 win could be enough. That's not to say they should play with fear, but they have to keep things tight."

With Juventus three points from clinching the Italian title with three games to go, almost everything hinges on the San Siro clashes for the two Milan clubs.

Milan however could take some consolation from the lightly-regarded Italian Cup having booked their place in the final where they will meet AS Roma.

Both Milan teams are virtually guaranteed of playing in next season's Champions League through their league positions.

Milanese ready for a taste of football heaven
6.5 || Seamus

"Football in heaven" declared the headline in today's Gazzetta dello Sport as Italy begins two weeks on the centre stage of European football and nowhere in the country feels more sky-high than Milan.


Turin-based Juventus take on defending European champions Real Madrid in their semi-final, first-leg match in Spain later on Tuesday but Wednesday's derby between AC Milan and Inter is the strongest proof of Italy's Champions League revival.


Milan has long claimed to be the capital not only of Italian football but the game in general. It is home to two of the continent's most famous clubs and one of the world's most spectacular stadiums and is the centre of the football business.


The city's hotels have been the venues for record-breaking transfer deals involving the planet's greatest players.


And without the pressure of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is also the president of Milan, combined with the threat of a breakaway led by an Italian company, the Champions League might never have replaced the old knock-out European Cup as the continent's premier competition.


Despite all that power and influence in the city, status in football is still determined by results and it is the presence of the two Milan clubs in the last four of this year's tournament that is giving the Milanese the most satisfaction.


"Above all I am proud for Milan and Inter," said Berlusconi who made his fortune in the city before moving into politics.


"But I also hope that later we can see an all-Italian final. This will be a more interesting derby than the others but it is still too soon to open a new era," he said in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper published on Tuesday.


VIOLENCE RARE


The eyes of the soccer world will be focused on the towering San Siro stadium on Wednesday with millions of fans from across the globe given a chance to taste the 95-year-long rivalry between the two Milan clubs via television.


There will be no shortage of atmosphere or colour but, unlike in other cities, the Milan derby rarely turns violent.


"The Romans are more passionate -- they are two tribes. The Milanese are self-mocking," says Beppe Severgnini author of a book on the meaning of being an Inter fan.


Before the kickoff at derbies, hardcore fans behind the goals, known as ultras, unveil huge banners which take weeks to prepare and are emblazoned with slogans designed to embarrass their rivals.


Sociology professor Italo Piccolo says humour and one-upmanship characterise the Milan derby more than aggression.


"It is much more elegant to make fun of the other team rather than to use violence. Milan has never had that kind of 'enemy attitude' among its fans."


IMAGE BOOST


For a city that gives such importance to image, the success of the two Milan clubs this season is a major boost.


"This semi-final is very, very important for the region. To have two teams from the same city and three from northern Italy among the best four teams in Europe is a great achievement," Roberto Formigoni, president of the region of Lombardy which includes Milan, told Reuters.


But above all, Wednesday's game belongs to the city's fans and this time the rivalry between the 'cousins' divided between the blue and black of Inter and the red and black of Milan is more intense than ever.


"The atmosphere at the derby games is incredible and this time it will be more amazing than ever before. Whoever loses this one is going to do it in front of all of Europe," says Milan fan Anna Paola Moroni.


Like many fans she is part of a family whose loyalties are divided between the two clubs.


"Whenever we beat Inter, I make fun of my sister for a whole month and this time it's going to be a lot worse."

By Simon Evans and William Schomberg

Cagey Carlo plans victory
6.5 || Seamus

Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti is keeping his cards close to his chest on the eve of the Champions’ League semi-final against Inter.

The tactician held his pre-match media conference on Tuesday afternoon but failed to drop any significant hints regarding his probable starting line-up.

"I’m not going to give anything away," said the former Juventus tactician. "All that I will say is that this will be a difficult team sheet to fill in.

"Every single member of my squad really wants to play in this game and I know that I’m going to disappoint a few of them.

"I won’t be affected by what type of team Hector Cuper decides to field. I will go down our own path and not be influenced by other factors."

The Rossoneri will technically be the home side on Wednesday but Ancelotti maintains that keeping a clean sheet is not the priority.

"It will be more important to win the actual game because that is my side’s style," added the former Milan midfielder.

"But nothing will be decided tomorrow night and we will have to wait until next week for the final verdict.

"I think it will be a spectacular game as both sides will want to put on a good show for the fans.

"We are aware that this is the most important football match that this city has ever seen.

"The players and myself are proud to be a part of it and we are looking forward to it.

"We want to win this game by playing well. But winning is the most important factor."

The tactician was then quizzed about the fitness of Rivaldo, plus Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf and Serginho.

"Rivaldo is in good shape and if he is selected then he will play in his usual attacking midfielder role," he added.

"The others are all fit and available even if I still haven’t decided whether any of them will feature."

Milan derby build-up: all the buzz from Milanello
6.5 || Seamus

There is a lot of excitement in the Milan camp ahead of the club's biggest game of the season against arch-rivals Inter in the Champions League semi-finals.


Alessandro Nesta: "It's the most important derby of my career. An important match, as I will finally face my friend Crespo."

The defender also said a few words about Inzaghi: "He may not be as elegant as Zidane, but he is effective and prolific. We would deserve the Golden Boot."


Kakhaber Kaladze: "I expect a difficult game. We are aware of Inter physical and psychological strength but we must play focusing only on our capabilities."

"It doesn't matter who plays, we must only do our best to get a grip on the game. How will Cuper's side play? I think Inter will use a 4-4-2, they have never changed their template since the start of the season."


Former legendary Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi: "Milan have been the Italian team who has been closest to the International standard. They were the best in the group stages."

"When Milan scored against Ajax, I jumped for joy. It was a difficult game for Carlo, as he had to do without many injured playes, but Milan went through...I am happy for that."


Clarence Seedorf: "After the test against Como I'm ready to play the most important derby of Milan's history. Ancelotti will decide whether to include me in the first team or send me in as a substitute. It's the last chance the Nerazzurri have to win something this season, they can't count on Vieri but beware of Crespo."

Moratti fears Milan duo
6.5 || scharatz

Inter President Massimo Moratti has admitted that he fears the Milan striking duo ahead of their Champions’ League semi-final.

The two Milanese giants meet at the San Siro on Wednesday night and Moratti has his eye on Pippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko.

"What can you say about them? They are a very dangerous partnership," said the Nerazzurri chief.

"Pippo especially is in great form right now. But I think that we have some quality players that can decide the outcome of any match."

However, one man that Inter won’t be able to count on is star striker Christian Vieri who could be available for the Old Trafford Final should they get there.

"Whoever steps in for him will give their very best," stated defender Marco Materazzi. "We will go onto the field of play looking to win for ourselves and our teammates who are unavailable."

The San Siro giants have been heavily criticised in recent months but the former Perugia stopper feels that is unjust.

"We’ve got this far in Europe on merit," added the international. "Now we need to take advantage of this great opportunity."

Cafu confirms Milan interest
5.5 || Seamus

AS Roma wing-back Cafu has confirmed that Milan are interested in signing him.

The Brazilian is set to leave the Giallorossi on a free transfer at the end of the season, and was thought to have signed a precontract agreement with Yokohama Marinos.

But he said: "I've still not decided my future and I haven't signed for anybody as things stand now.

"I'm happy that Milan are interested in me but I will only make a final decision at the end of the season once I can assess all the offers."

Rivaldo reveals British bids
4.5 || Seamus

Unsettled Milan man Rivaldo has hinted at a move to Britain this summer with Chelsea and Rangers showing interest.


“I have had more than one set of talks with a Scottish outfit,” revealed the World Cup winner, “and I also know that Chelsea are interested.”


The former Barcelona hero was previously linked with Premiership sides Newcastle United, Tottenham and Fulham before accepting a free transfer to Milan last summer.


However, he has struggled to recapture his form in Serie A and is set to be released at the end of the season.


There were reports of a return to Spain with Valencia and even his old club Barcelona said to be making bids.


However, Rivaldo’s latest comments seem to suggest that London will be his next destination.


“Chelsea are a great club and I would like to experience the Premiership before I retire.”


If the Stamford Bridge outfit achieves Champions’ League qualification then it is likely Rivaldo will choose a move to Chelsea.


Milan currently seem set to release him from his contract free of charge, but should they hang on then goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini would be requested as part of the deal.


Christian Abbiati recently made his international debut against Switzerland, but has spent the season on the bench.


Abbiati would reportedly be offered to Chelsea along with Rivaldo and £3m cash in order to tempt Cudicini back to Serie A.

Nesta on top of the world
4.5 || Seamus

Alessandro Nesta claims the Champions’ League clash with Inter is the high point of his career so far.

“We are three days away from a European semi-final,” said the Milan star, “and many of the players here, including me, have never reached this stage before.”

The former Lazio captain struggled in his first months at the San Siro, but in recent weeks he has become a crucial element in the Rossoneri defence.

“My last two games have been just brilliant,” he confessed, “because I have never been in a situation like this before. I and the whole team will give 100 per cent to reach the Champions’ League Final.”

Nesta has even discovered a new side to himself, scoring twice in the last fortnight to give Milan precious results. Before Saturday, he had only ever grabbed one Serie A goal in 1999.

“I am going forward a lot more recently when there are set-pieces,” he revealed, “but that is only because Paolo Maldini is more hesitant since he fractured his nose.”

The Italian international scored against Perugia in the Coppa Italia semi-finals on April 15 and netted for Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Como. Could he make his mark on Milan’s third competition?

“Playing against Inter is always a tense and exhilarating event. This is an incredibly important game for both sides.”

Nesta has also earned praise from Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani.

“With two goals in less than a month,” said the director, “it seems as if the Milan air is doing him good. He has never scored so many in his career.”

The Lazio youth product was a late summer buy for a cut price £21m, but Galliani maintains he was well worth it.

“Nesta is a wonderful signing for this club and is carrying on the line of world class defenders after Franco Baresi and Maldini.”

Meanwhile, the city is heating up ahead of Wednesday’s first leg Euro derby and 57,416 tickets have already been sold.

Milan goal twins warn Inter
4.5 || scharatz

Pippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko claim they are hitting peak form just in time for the Champions' League clash with Inter.


“This will be a different kind of game to the Serie A derbies,” noted the Ukrainian hitman.


“We all need to prepare for Wednesday’s game with the right mental attitude and not suffer under the pressure of this event.”


As the Scudetto is almost sewn on to Juve’s shirts, the European semi-final is the turning point for both Milan and Inter’s campaign.


To make matters even more intriguing, the 2-0 win over Como has put the Rossoneri just two points behind their rivals in second place.


“I am happy that my goal helped earn this win,” commented penalty taker Inzaghi. “The whole team proved it is back on form and now we can concentrate on the derby.”


Several stars, including Manuel Rui Costa and Billy Costacurta, were rested for the Como game and will start against Inter.


Inzaghi and Shevchenko performed well in the same line-up and even Rivaldo seems to be returning to his former self.


“Milan showed real grit and determination to get this result,” added Shevchenko.

“If we play like this for the remaining three Serie A games then we can certainly snatch that second automatic Champions’ League qualifying spot.”


However, Vice-President Adriano Galliani has assured that Wednesday’s game with Inter will not decide the fate of Carlo Ancelotti.


“The Coach is not at risk,” insisted Galliani. “The Champions’ League result will not put his position in danger, even if we do have regrets at the way our Serie A season has gone. At Christmas we were four points clear of Juventus.”


Pirlo fit for Milan semi-final
4.5 || Seamus

AC Milan's Italian international midfield player Andrea Pirlo has declared himself ready to return to the side in time for next Wednesday's UEFA Champions League derby semi-final against Internazionale FC.

Knee injury:
Pirlo had been expected to miss the rest of the season after hurting his knee cap in the first leg of the quarter-final against AFC Ajax in Amsterdam. But the creative midfielder was back in full training on Thursday and said he expected to be ready for an earlier-than-expected return - with even Saturday's league game against Como Calcio a possibility.

Available for Saturday:
"I feel better now. I have no more pain on my knee and fortunately I didn't need to undergo surgery," Pirlo told the club's website. "I think I'll be available for Saturday's game then the coach will decide whether he needs me against Inter."

Seedorf in contention for semi
4.5 || Seamus

AC Milan midfield player Clarence Seedorf is expected to return from injury in time to play a part in the UEFA Champions League semi-final against city rivals Internazionale FC.

Knee injury:
Seedorf had been expected to miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee ligament injury in the quarter-final first leg at AFC Ajax but the Dutch international is close to completing an unexpectedly swift recovery and could be among the substitutes for Milan's visit to Como Calcio tomorrow. Seedorf has been working overtime with the club's medical staff and should be available to start at least the second leg on 13 May.

Back in training:
"Seedorf has resumed training with his team-mates and I hope I can have him on the substitutes' bench against Como," said Rossoneri coach Carlo Ancelotti. "However I still haven't decided the squad for the match against Inter because now we have to think about the league first. We want to finish second and we have to win all four remaining matches." Milan are currently third in Serie A, 12 points behind leaders Juventus FC and four behind Inter.

Bidding for record:
The 27-year-old Seedorf is bidding for a unique record of becoming the first player to claim Champions League winner's medals with three different clubs, having won the tournament with Ajax in 1995 and Real Madrid CF in 1998. Seedorf's return is the second piece of good news for Milan in as many days after playmaker Andrea Pirlo declared himself fit for next Wednesday's first leg against Inter.

AC Milan 2:0 Como - report
3.5 || scharatz

Milan strolled to a comfortable 2-0 over Como on Saturday and took a big step toward securing second place in Serie A in the process. The league position of the two squads hinted at the possible result before the match as Milan were expected to pummel Com, who have been relegated for all intents and purposes.

Milan started brightly and were ahead on 10 minutes. The referee had adjudged that Filippo Inzaghi was pushed in the penalty area and pointed to the spot. Inzaghi made no mistake with his ensuing penalty and Milan took the early lead.

Any doubt as to who would be the winner of this match was put to rest with a half hour to play. A Rivaldo corner-kick was flicked on by Inzaghi and met at the far post by Alessandro Nesta who acrobatically crashed the ball home from close range. That put the 'rosonerri' up 2-0 and effectively ended any chances for a Como shocker.

The win keeps Milan in third place, however they shave points off their deficit to Inter as now they are within two points of Hector Cuper's side thanks to Inter's draw today against Atalanta.

Como were not embarassed on the day, however the loss ensures that they will take the drop to Serie B next season after only one season in the top flight.

Milan: Dida; Simic, Roque Junior, Nesta, Maldini (Kaladze 77); Gattuso, Ambrosini (Seedorf 60), Brocchi; Rivaldo; Shevchenko, Inzaghi (Tomasson 70)

Como: Brunner; Tomas, Stellini, Juarez; Cigardi, Cauet (Belingheri 78), Corrent, Allegretti (Pecchia 52), Music; Amoruso, Anaclerio (Greco 52)

Referee: Dondarini

AC Milan vs Como - preview
3.5 || scharatz

Milan are now out of the Scudetto chase, but risk losing third place if they don’t improve their record against the smaller sides.

Setbacks with Atalanta, Brescia and most recently Empoli at the San Siro have cost them the title this season. Concentration is very much focused on the Champions’ League semi-final against Inter, so bottom club Como could make the most of this opportunity.

Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf were ruled out for the season with knee injuries, but both have recovered in record time and may find a spot on the bench alongside the not 100 per cent fit Gennaro Gattuso and Rivaldo. Pippo Inzaghi should again be rested following a bruised knee, but there are precious other options to rotate Carlo Ancelotti’s squad.

Como are without the suspended Benito Carbone, but youngster Francesco Cigardi may be given a spot in the starting line-up. Vedin Music is one to watch for his pace and strong runs down the flanks, while Nicola Amoruso is on fine form upfront.

Milan: (Probable) Abbiati; Simic, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Brocchi, Ambrosini, Redondo; Rui Costa; Shevchenko, Tomasson

Como: (Probable) Ferron; Tomas, Stellini, Juarez; Cigardi, Corrent, Pecchia, Allegretti, Music; Amoruso, Caccia

Ancelotti concentrating on Como
3.5 || scharatz

Milan are out of the title chase, but Carlo Ancelotti has urged his men to put the Champions’ League out of their minds.


“We can’t be thinking about the European derby yet,” commented the Coach, “when there is so much still to play for. If we finish second in Serie A it will help us plan the next season.”


The Rossoneri are currently in third place behind runaway leaders Juventus and arch rivals Inter – who also stand on their path to the Champions’ League Final.


“We haven’t picked up points for two weeks now,” he said after two consecutive defeats to Empoli and Roma, “so this is a delicate encounter for us.”


Milan have often performed well against the big clubs this season, but it is with the smaller sides that they have faltered.


“Como still want to fight on the field despite their tricky situation and this is a team that will make us suffer for every point.”


Como could prove another costly banana skin on which to slip, but several stars are slowly getting back to full fitness following an injury crisis.


“I am optimistic we can have Clarence Seedorf back to at least sit on the bench this Saturday. He and Andrea Pirlo haven’t done much full training with the rest of the team, but they are doing fairly well.”


The Dutchman is part of the 23-man squad to face Como just three weeks after damaging knee ligaments against Ajax, but Pirlo and Brazilian winger Serginho have been left out.


Christian Abbiati could also get a rare start following his impressive international debut in Italy’s 2-1 win over Switzerland.


“Abbiati has always been an important player for us,” insisted Ancelotti. “If Dida is feeling tired then he could be given his chance. The same goes for the other players who may be strained from midweek international duty.”


Manuel Rui Costa and Andriy Shevchenko could make way for Rivaldo and Jon Dahl Tomasson, while Alessandro Nesta and Pippo Inzaghi have recovered from minor injuries that kept them out of the trip to Switzerland.



Gk: Abbiati, Dida, Fiori


D: Costacurta, Helveg, Kaladze, Laursen, Maldini, Nesta, Roque Junior, Simic


M: Ambrosini, Ba, Brocchi, Dalla Bona, Gattuso, Redondo, Rivaldo, Rui Costa, Seedorf


F: Inzaghi, Shevchenko, Tomasson


Coppa dates announced
2.5 || scharatz

The dates for the two-legged Coppa Italia Final have been confirmed. While Week 33 and Week 34 of the Serie A season have been switched from Sunday to Saturday.

The first leg of the Italian Cup Final between Roma and Milan will be played at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday 20 May at 21.00 local time.

The second leg has been scheduled for the San Siro on Saturday May 31 at 21.00 local time.

Meanwhile, the League have also revealed that the last two weekends of the top flight campaign will be brought forward by 24 hours.

Therefore Week 33 has been set for May 17, while the season will end with Week 34 on Saturday 24 May.

Week 31, which will be played tomorrow, and Week 32 have already been switched from a Sunday to a Saturday.

Rivaldo set for Spanish return
2.5 || scharatz

Rivaldo will leave Milan at the end of the season in favour of a return to Spain according to reports.

Spanish newspaper ‘Marca’ clams that the Brazilian will close his Italian nightmare this summer with Barcelona and Valencia apparently interested.

The former Golden Ball winner has struggled to adapt to his new surroundings after he terminated his contract with Barca last year.

However, he could move back to the Nou Camp outfit after they sacked Louis Van Gaal, who was the major reason why he left the giants in the first place.

But Barcelona seemingly face stiff opposition from Valencia who are looking to land a big name player after this season’s disappointments in La Liga and the Champions’ League.

Reports of Rivaldo’s proposed departure have been circulating in Italy for the past few months as stories emerged of unrest between the player and boss Carlo Ancelotti.

Vice-president Adriano Galliani then added fuel to the fire when he recently admitted that the attacking midfielder could quit the Rossoneri.

"Rivaldo is free to decide his own future," said Galliani. "But obviously we are hoping that he will stay here with us."

Rivaldo has only featured 18 times in Serie A, where he has scored five goals, but has also missed two penalties.

He’s scored twice in 11 Champions’ League games and appeared just once in the Coppa Italia.

In recent months his form has dipped considerably, with some blaming the breakdown of his marriage as a major factor for his below par performances.

Maldini still craves success
2.5 || scharatz

Veteran Milan stopper Paolo Maldini maintains that he is still hungry for glory despite his past success.

The 34-year-old has won just about every major competition with Milan in the late 80s and early 90s but is keen to add to his lengthy honours list.

"I still have a great love for this game," said the captain. "My passion for this sport helps me to keep working hard in training and always give my very best.

"I’m looking to just win as much as I can from now on because in a few years time I may not get the chance to do so anymore."

Maldini has his eyes firmly fixed on winning the Champions’ League and he’s confident that city rivals Inter can be beaten in the semi-finals.

"We’ve received a real boost with the return to fitness of Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf," he added.

"To have a selection of quality players at this stage of the season is so important for a team like ours who are battling on the continent."

But before the first leg showdown against the Nerazzurri, Milan are back in Serie A action against Como tomorrow afternoon.

"We need a victory because it is our aim to still finish second in the League," he added. "It will also boost morale ahead of Wednesday’s derby."

Redondo eyes Milan success
1.5 || Seamus

Fernando Redondo is confident that Milan can end the season with two trophies despite their poor League form.

The Rossoneri have fallen out of the Scudetto race in recent weeks but are in the semi-finals of the Champions’ League and will face Roma in the Italian Cup Final.

"We know that we have some very important games between now and the end of term," the Argentine told ‘Milan Channel’.

"This is the decisive part of the season but we are determined to end on a high and with a great victory. I’m hopeful because we have the mentality to do that."

Milan’s most important game of the season to date will be their semi-final against Inter next week.

"It will be very difficult against our city rivals but it will also be a great occasion for the city and Italian football," added the former Real Madrid ace.

"It should be a beautiful occasion and we are very stimulated to do well and reach the Old Trafford final."

But before that derby clash, Milan will take on Como this Saturday. "They are a decent side who are very good defensively," added Redondo.

"We need to try to open the scoring quickly because we are still keen to win all our remaining League games."

Milan's Inzaghi wary of Inter threat
1.5 || Seamus

AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi has warned his team mates against complacency as they look forward to a Champions League semi-final against city rivals Inter Milan.

Inzaghi opened the scoring as Milan beat Ajax Amsterdam 3-2 in a thrilling match on Wednesday night to set up the clash with Inter, who scraped into the last four on away goals after their 2-1 second-leg defeat at Valencia on Tuesday.

Milan have beaten Inter 1-0 in both Serie A derbies this season, but Inzaghi insisted those results would have no bearing on which team progresses to the final in Manchester.

"Winning both derbies counts for nothing," Inzaghi told Wednesday's Gazzetta dello Sport. "The Champions League semis will be a different kind of match."

"At Valencia, Inter showed what great character they've got, and we've also shown that we know how to fight coming back against Ajax. They will be two very difficult matches."

Recent form and Inter's inability to win big matches against Italian opposition this season make Milan favourite to reach the final.

But Inter coach Hector Cuper's side proved they knew how to grind out a result against wave after wave of Valencia attacks on Tuesday.

Cuper had said he would prefer Inter's opponents in the last four to be Ajax -- who they beat twice in the first group stage of this season's competition -- but was not complaining on Wednesday.

"The important thing was to get to the last four," he told Gazzetta. "Now bring on Milan. This way we'll be able to take sweet revenge for the double-defeat in the league."

The European derby gives the Milan clubs an opportunity to put domestic disappointments behind as they have both fallen off the pace in Serie A in recent weeks.

With five games remaining, Inter and Milan trail leaders Juventus by six and nine points respectively and Cuper and his counterpart on the Milan bench, Carlo Ancelotti, have been under pressure.


DANGEROUS SIDE:
Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko said his side had rediscovered the form that made them such a dangerous side at the beginning of the season, when they led Serie A and beat Real Madrid at the San Siro stadium.

"Finally we're picking up where we left off, though to tell you the truth we never thought we'd lost the thread completely," the Ukrainian international told reporters after the Ajax match.

"This year we've had a lot to deal with -- loads of new players coming into the squad and a new formation.

"The only thing that counts is that Milan has won this match. Maybe we had a bit of that luck we haven't had on other occasions, but I believe we absolutely deserved the win tonight".

San Siro sides call Beckham
1.5 || Seamus

Real Madrid claim they don’t need David Beckham, but Inter face a duel with Milan to snatch the England captain.


Beckham’s rapport with Manchester United has deteriorated this season and there are strong reports he is to be sold this summer.


If first choice Real have officially denied any proposed bid, then the same cannot be said of the San Siro sides.


This week Milan Vice-President pledged “next season you will see one of Luis Figo, Ronaldo and David Beckham wearing the Rossoneri shirt.”


Carlo Ancelotti’s team is lacking any real width and the first name on their shopping list is Man U midfielder Beckham.


There are financial problems at the club, but this year’s strong run in the Champions’ League has given them some extra cash and pulling power.


However, their main rivals to sign Beckham are across the city wearing the black and blue jerseys.


Inter have notched up a string of disappointing performances and the lack of wide men are damaging to Hector Cuper’s 4-4-2 formation.


A winger must be signed and up until now they have been linked with Beckham’s Manchester United teammate Ryan Giggs.


President Massimo Moratti is a notorious Anglophile and already brought Paul Ince to the San Siro in the 1990’s.


Inter may well have the upper hand as they could offer Sir Alex Ferguson target Alvaro Recoba as part of their bid for Beckham.


The inclusion of the Uruguayan international would cut his £26m price-tag considerably, although Recoba’s wage demands could pose a problem.

No Atletico stay for Jose Mari
1.5 || Seamus

Atletico Madrid ace Jose Mari is set to return to Milan in the summer after a clash with Jesus Gil.

The Spaniard is currently on loan from the Rossoneri but has exchanged angry words with the Atletico chief following the loss at Osasuna.

Gil blasted the side following their latest loss which angered the former international striker.

"It is all too easy to criticise after a defeat," said the player. "Gil does this far too often. When we win he says we are a great side. When we lose he says we are a disaster."

But Gil wasn’t too impressed with Jose Mari’s statement and has confirmed that he won’t be signing the player outright at the end of the season.

"One thing is for sure, Jose Mari will not remain here," maintained Gil. "I don’t want to wish him any harm but certain players will get what they deserve.

"It is only professional for people to accept responsibility for what they do on and off the field of play."

Jose Mari will return to the San Siro but he isn’t expected to remain with the Rossoneri for the 2003/04 campaign.

Albertini looking to return to Milan
1.5 || Seamus

Atletico Madrid's on-loan Milan midfielder Demetrio Albertini has revealed that he would like to return to his homeland this summer.

"I feel at ease in Spain, but the idea of coming back home appeals to me," Milan's official site quoted him as saying in 'Tuttosport'. "I'm waiting for a sign, but this time I want to stay in Milan. When I moved to Atletico Madrid, I didn't leave a team but a family. I have spent a wonderful time and have won a lot with Milan, I have good memories and close friends at the club."





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