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The Archive

May 2007

Real Madrid interest flatters Kaka
31.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Milan star Kaka has admitted that, although he is flattered by Real Madrid’s interest in him, he is happy to remain at the San Siro.

The Rossonero has once again been paired with the Merengues and reports in Spain on Wednesday suggest that Madrid are ready to offer £43m to convince Milan to let go of their prized asset.

“I can only be honoured to hear that a club like Real Madrid are interested in me and it’s something that happened last year as well,” said Kaka in an interview to the Spanish newspaper AS.

“However I have to make one thing clear. I have just won the Champions League with Milan and my family and I are very happy there,” added the 25-year-old, who is in London for Brazil’s friendly with England at Wembley on Friday.

“For that reason, the only way anything will happen is if Milan finalise an agreement with Real Madrid.”

Kaka would reportedly accept a move, but does not want to be involved in any transfer wars as he wishes to maintain his great relationship with Milan and their fans.

According to AS, the Merengues might include Emerson in their offer in order to lower the price, as Coach Carlo Ancelotti recently said that he would be a valuable asset for the Rossoneri.

Chelsea delay Shevchenko meeting
31.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

A meeting between Chelsea and Milan to discuss Andriy Shevchenko’s future on Wednesday failed to take place, according to the Italian Press.

The Blues’ chief executive Peter Kenyon was expected in Italy to meet with Inter officials, but the club opted to send a fax to the Nerazzurri to confirm that Hernan Crespo will remain at the San Siro next term.

Milan and Chelsea officials therefore did not have the opportunity to meet and discuss Shevchenko’s future, although reports in Italy suggest that negotiations are well underway.

The striker left Milan to join Chelsea last summer in a £30m move, but struggled to cope with life in the Premiership.

The Rossoneri have reiterated over the past few months that they would welcome the 2004 European Footballer of the Year back to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

Shevchenko had insisted that he wanted another chance to prove himself in England, but it appears that neither Coach Jose Mourinho nor the striker seem keen to work with each other.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is open to a Milan return for the Ukrainian, but will not accept a loan deal, as he hopes to recover most of the £30m.

In the meantime, Milan have decided to extend Ronaldo’s contract, which is set to expire in June. The Brazilian’s agent Fabiano Farah was in town on Wednesday and the new one-year deal is expected to be announced in the next few days.

Real Madrid go for Kaka
30.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Reports in Spain claim that Real Madrid are ready to resume their campaign to sign Milan star Kaka.

The Brazilian has been a primary transfer objective for the Spaniards since last summer when the Rossoneri reported Real to FIFA over their public courtship of the starlet.

However, we could be in for another summer of tension as the Spanish newspaper AS claims that Real chief Ramon Calderon intends to keep the promise made during his election campaign by netting the Golden Boy.

The Merengues are reportedly ready to invest up to £43m for the Champions League top scorer and could include Emerson in the deal, a midfielder liked by boss Carlo Ancelotti, as well as Fabio Cannavaro.

The story adds that Kaka would also be willing to make the move despite his status as a Milan fan favourite.

"I don't want to start a war, but I would be happy to join Madrid," he is quoted as saying.

Although Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani has insisted that the South American is untouchable – no matter what offer is tabled – Real are still keen.

It’s understood that Madrid officials Predrag Mijatovic and Franco Baldini have already been in touch with Kaka’s agent over a possible move.

The 1982-born starlet joined the Via Turati outfit in August 2003 after Chelsea were pipped to his signature.

Meanwhile, a report in Marca claims that Ancelotti could take over at Barcelona during the summer.

That, however, seems unlikely given that Ancelotti is in talks over a Rossoneri extension following Champions League glory.

Emerson delays AC Milan decision
30.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Real Madrid ace Emerson will only consider a move to Milan at the end of the Liga season, his agent has noted.

The midfielder has been strongly associated with a Rossoneri switch after a problematic campaign at Real following his summer transfer from Juventus.

“We are happy to hear that [boss] Carlo Ancelotti has admitted that Milan are interested in Emerson,” said Gilmar Veloz. “This means that he acknowledges my client’s work.

“It is important for Emerson to know that he is on Milan’s wish list and that obviously makes him very happy.

“However, I have to underline that he will decide his future only at the end of the current campaign.”

The Spanish League still has two rounds left to play and Real Madrid are in pole position to win their first championship since 2003.

However, reports in Spain claim that the 32-year-old Brazilian has already agreed to a Milan transfer.

Meanwhile, the European champions are also pondering a move for Brazilian defender Edmilson of Barcelona.

Galliani explains Nesta snub
30.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Milan chief Adriano Galliani believes that Alessandro Nesta’s decision to quit international football is due to the intense fixture list.

The defender asked to be omitted from the Italy squad for June’s two Euro 2008 qualifiers and boss Roberto Donadoni yesterday admitted that the stopper may never return.

“I think these things happen all over the world,” said Rossoneri Vice-President Galliani. “You need to consider that the footballing calendar is very intense.

“However, no one can complain about Milan. We fielded seven Italian players out of 11 in the Champions League Final. You should point the finger at other clubs…”

Nesta had hinted last week that he might retire from international football in order to focus on his club duties, in an effort to prolong his career at the highest levels.

Meanwhile, Galliani was also questioned on UEFA chief Michel Platini’s proposal to abolish the G14, an organisation founded by some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs in 2000.

“We will meet with the other sides and come to a decision,” continued the official.

“Platini has taken some important forward steps compared to the past, especially with the introduction of a ‘strategic board’.

“But we only represent one of the 18 clubs in the G14 and we cannot decide alone.”

FIGC elect new Vice-Presidents
29.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

The Italian Federation has elected three new Vice-Presidents, including former Milan midfielder Demetrio Albertini.

The FIGC had already placed Giancarlo Abete in the President’s chair and this evening the decision was made to complete his staff.

Albertini is the current President of the AIC (Italian Players’ Association), while Carlo Tavecchio is the President of the LND (National Amateur League). Both are now Vice-Presidents of the Federation.

An honorary Vice-Presidential position has also gone to Cesare Gussoni. He is the President of the AIA (Italian Referees’ Association).

This is a blow for the Lega Calcio, who had put forward their own chief Antonio Matarrese for that post.

“We examined the new code of the sporting justice system and elected three new Vice-Presidents of the FIGC,” confirmed Abete.

Gussoni’s election was not unanimous, showing another split within the complex world of Italian football.

“Perhaps we were just accustomed to meetings where there was a unanimous vote. We are in a phase of greater clarity and there was an ample debate, although not so much on Gussoni, who was appreciated by everyone.

“The Lega Calcio members left during the voting process, but they did so out of respect, otherwise they would have had to vote against Gussoni.”

AC Milan duo go under the knife
29.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Milan stars Paolo Maldini and Alberto Gilardino both underwent knee surgery this afternoon, confirmed the club.

Both players flew out to Belgium for a consultation with Professor Marc Martens in Antwerp and went under the knife.

Captain Maldini required an operation on his left knee to correct a long-term problem regarding “inflammation of the cartilage around the femoro-rotulea”.

Gilardino had “meniscal cysts removed from the outside meniscus of his right knee”.

Both players are expected to resume their pre-season training without difficulty in July.

Maldini had confirmed he would have had the surgery earlier, but when Milan qualified for the Champions League Final, he decided to postpone it until after the match.

The defender played and lifted the trophy in Athens on May 23, as the Rossoneri beat Liverpool 2-1.

Donadoni fears Nesta farewell
29.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Italy boss Roberto Donadoni has conceded that he fears Alessandro Nesta has played his last game for the Azzurri.

The Rossoneri stopper was omitted from Donadoni’s squad for the upcoming Euro 2008 qualifiers with the Faroe Islands and Lithuania at his own request, a decision which smells like international retirement to the tactician.

“I think Nesta’s decision is final and will not be subject to change,” said Donadoni at Coverciano on Tuesday.

“I’m disappointed because he is still relatively young and could give so much more to this team, but I have spoken to him and he explained his motives.

“This is his position, but if you want to know more then you will have to ask him the questions rather than me.”

Nesta is the second Italian to snub an Azzurri call after Francesco Totti halted his international career following World Cup glory.

The striker has insisted that he won’t make a decision on a possible return until he’s fully fit again next season – despite ending this campaign as the Serie A top scorer with 26 goals.

“I don’t know what will happen after the plates in his ankle have been removed, but I think I did what I had to do with him over the last year,” added the former Livorno boss.

“When I was a footballer I would have never considered the idea of refusing an international call-up, but I was very lucky because I never had any serious injuries.

“In any case, I respect the players and they respect me.”

Donadoni will have to do without 10 of Germany’s world champions for the next Euro 2008 qualifiers.

“Some of them are not available, because injured, some others were not included in my squad for tactical reasons,” noted the former Milan winger.

“I am serene, the players are determined, some of whom have won important trophies and I think we can do well in our next two matches.

“One of the most motivated players is Filippo Inzaghi. All we have to do is fire the ball at him and he’ll score…”

Donadoni concluded by calling for next season to start on August 19, rather than the 26, so that his men would be in good shape for the crucial France game on September 8.

“I just hope that everyone will be fit for the match with France,” he added. “I see that the players are happy to wear this jersey and have the right spirit – this is important.”

Oddo hungry for glory
29.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Milan defender Massimo Oddo is convinced that their Champions League success is just the first of many more triumphs.

The Rossoneri claimed their seventh European Cup by defeating Liverpool in Athens last week, but the Germany '06 winner is adamant that his side are still hungry for honours.

“The season which has just ended has been very positive, both for the World Cup win and for the Champions League victory,” said Oddo.

“However, I don’t think that this means we can’t do even better. We have set ourselves other objectives and we want to win everything!”

Oddo is currently on international duty ahead of the Euro 2008 qualifiers with the Faroe Islands and Lithuania on June 2 and 6.

However, Milan teammate Alessandro Nesta is not at Coverciano after he followed in the footsteps of Francesco Totti by refusing a call-up.

“I know why Nesta decided not to join us this time, but he will tell you,” he noted. “In any case I don’t think this means that he won’t play for the Nazionale again.

“All that we must do now is focus on our next two matches as we know that there are no easy ties in the game anymore.

“We could say that the match with the Faroe Islands can be considered a good training session in view of our trip to Lithuania, where we will be in for a very difficult time.”

The Azzurri are currently fourth in Group B behind Ukraine, Scotland and France and will face the Faroe Islands in Torshavn on Saturday.

The World Cup winners will then return to Italy to train at Milanello – Milan’s base – before flying to Lithuania on June 5.

Gattuso in Inter blast
29.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Gennaro Gattuso has insisted that Milan have apologised enough for the offensive Inter banner which they exposed during their Champions League celebrations.

Massimo Ambrosini and Massimo Oddo momentarily held up a banner, given to them by fans, on their open top bus which read: ‘You can stick the Scudetto up your…’

Inter, understandably, took offence and the European champions have been widely criticised for the incident – much to the annoyance of Gattuso.

“I can’t stand to hear any more of this,” said Gattuso to local television network Antenna 3.

“We said we are sorry because we all did something wrong, however, we cannot accept any more of this and I am speaking on behalf of the entire team.

“Inter cannot teach us how to behave. [Inter owner Massimo] Moratti must have forgotten some of his gestures, he forgets what they did at Valencia.

“What does he mean by saying that his Inter players will not forget? What are these threats?

“We always say that we have to be aware of how we behave, also for the fans, and a President can’t speak in this way.

“What else must we do? Must we go into the streets to say that we did wrong? In Italy we forgive people who have done much more than this...

“I think the two captains should meet and put an end to the issue.”

Ringhio was particularly angry at his Azzurri teammate and close friend Marco Materazzi, who has taken a moral high ground on a number of issues.

“He must stop as well,” added Gattuso. “We are friends, but I have had enough of this, sometimes it seems as if he has turned into Jesus Christ…

“During the past year everyone has been talking about the ‘honest’ Scudetto. For me this is not a pleasant situation, when I played I never noticed that we were receiving any favours.”

Kaladze commits until 2011
29.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Milan defender Kakha Kaladze has stated that he will honour his contract with the San Siro outfit.

The Georgian was paired with a summer move after the Champions League win in Athens, when he stated that he was eager to be a first-team regular.

“I have spoken with the club and every misunderstanding has been clarified,” said Kaladze to Milan Channel this afternoon.

“I am very glad and I want to say to all our supporters and those who love me and love Milan that I will stay here until 2011,” added the Rossonero.

“I have a contract and I respect all the rules set by this club. As to the statements following the Final, I certainly didn’t mean that I wanted to leave. I met with Adriano Galliani, Leonardo and Ariedo Braida and we clarified the issue: I will stay for four more years,” explained the 29-year-old.

The Georgian was on the verge of a Chelsea move two years ago, but no fee could be agreed and he signed a new Rossoneri contract instead.

“I have always had an excellent relationship with this outfit, the Coach and the team. Milan have given me many trophies, two Champions League titles, the Scudetto, the Super Cup and now hopefully the Intercontinental Cup.

“We have all contributed in the last five years, we are like a family, this is Milan’s secret. As to myself, I will do all I can to be ready when needed. I had many problems this year, but I played all the decisive matches.

“In any case I never said anything against the club. I had some issues to clarify, now everything is fine,” concluded Kaladze.

Donadoni chooses Inzaghi
29.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Filippo Inzaghi and Cristiano Lucarelli have been included in Roberto Donadoni’s Italy squad to face the Faroe Islands and Lithuania.

The Azzurri are currently fourth in the Euro 2008 Group B behind Ukraine, Scotland and France and will face the Faroe Islands on June 2 in Torshavn, before travelling to Kaunas, where they will play Lithuania on June 6.

Donadoni called-up 23 men for the Euro 2008 qualifiers, but there are no new faces on the list.

Alessandro Nesta will not be part of the squad, as well as Luca Toni and Mauro Camoranesi (both injured), whereas Inzaghi’s brace in the Champions League Final with Liverpool earned him a call-up, as the former Juventino was preferred to teammate Alberto Gilardino.

Lucarelli’s 20 Serie A goals this season, which ended with a brace against Atalanta on Sunday, allows the Livorno captain to return to the Azzurri squad, which also includes Alessandro Gamberini of Fiorentina, who had earned his maiden call-up on the occasion of Donadoni’s debut on Italy’s bench last summer.

The squad will meet at the Coverciano training camp on Tuesday morning for two days of work, before travelling to the Faroe Islands on Thursday afternoon.

The Azzurri will return to Italy after Saturday’s match and will train in Milanello before flying to Lithuania on June 5.

Goalkeepers: Abbiati (Torino), Amelia (Livorno), Buffon (Juventus)

Defenders: Barzagli (Palermo), Cannavaro (Real Madrid), Gamberini (Fiorentina), Materazzi (Inter), Oddo (Milan), Pasqual (Fiorentina), Tonetto (Roma), Zambrotta (Barcelona)

Midfielders: Ambrosini (Milan), De Rossi (Roma), Diana (Palermo), Gattuso (Milan), Perrotta (Roma), Pirlo (Milan)

Forwards: Del Piero (Juventus), Di Natale (Udinese), Inzaghi (Milan), Lucarelli (Livorno), Quagliarella (Sampdoria), Rocchi (Lazio)

Ancelotti's Azzurri dream
28.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Carlo Ancelotti admits that he dreams of one day coaching the Italy squad, but insists this will not happen before 2010.

The Coach was linked with a job on the Azzurri bench over the last few months and makes no secret that he would be interested in the position, although it is not one of his current priorities.

“I don’t think I will coach the Rossoneri all my life and I would one day like to work with the Nazionale, but not until after 2010,” said Ancelotti, who is currently contracted to the San Siro outfit until 2008.

“I don’t believe there will be any problems for my contract renewal. I still have a year here, there will be time to discuss,” added the tactician in an interview to Radio Anch’io lo Sport.

“When this current adventure is over, I would like to coach the Azzurri squad.”

The tactician then moved on to comment on the rumours of Andriy Shevchenko’s possible return after his disappointing spell with Chelsea.

“We would be glad to have him back, but this is not a decision which depends on us,” explained the former midfielder.

“Chelsea paid a lot for the player last year and I don’t that they will let him leave, also because they will be without Didier Drogba for a few months because of the African Nations Cup.”

There was controversy during the weekend when Ancelotti said that a star player who “nobody could suspect” had approached Milan looking for a transfer, as Inter chief Massimo Moratti declared that he did not appreciate the comments, allegedly referred to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“He is not the man I was talking about. He has played an excellent season and is glad at Inter. I only meant to say that there are many footballers interested in joining us and amongst them there is one that no one would ever imagine,” concluded Ancelotti.

AC Milan - Inter row intensifies
28.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Relations between the ‘cugini’ are at an all-time low, with Massimo Moratti and Carlo Ancelotti exchanging barbed comments over Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

There was controversy this week when Milan Coach Ancelotti said a star player who “nobody could suspect” had approached them looking for a transfer.

“If I revealed his name, there would be chaos,” he smiled in his Press conference. All the major Italian newspapers insisted it was Ibrahimovic, who has criticised Inter for dragging their heels over a contract improvement.

When asked about this story, Nerazzurri patron Moratti vented his fury at Sky Italia television.

“I really don’t think that Ibra can go to Milan,” he said. “I definitely did not appreciate Ancelotti’s comments.

“I’m not sure at this stage what is true and what was built up by the media. In the past we have exchanged players with Milan to avoid excessive wage deals, but I don’t see any likelihood that could happen now.”

This message was relayed to Ancelotti and the tension between the two clubs grew even further.

“I wasn’t trying to be funny,” said the Rossoneri Coach. “Moratti has nothing to do with the ‘beyond suspicion’ player I was talking about. The newspapers are making these links, but I never named anyone. I never said Ibrahimovic.”

If Milan are not behind it, then what is undeniable is that Ibrahimovic is unhappy with the Nerazzurri.

He caused controversy this week by telling newspaper ‘Libero’ that Juventus were more organised and a better squad, partly because of disgraced former director general Luciano Moggi.

“You always need someone like Moggi in an organisation,” Zlatan reiterated in front of Sky Italia television cameras this evening.

“He helped me out a lot when I was at Juve. Here at Inter things are going well, but one can always do better.”

Reggina 2:0 AC Milan - match report
27.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Scorers: Amoruso 8 (R), Amerini 67 (R)

Reggina got the win they needed to stay in the top flight, as Nicola Amoruso and Amerini got the better of a hungover Milan.

The Rossoneri were celebrating Wednesday's Champions League triumph, but it was all still to play for at the Granillo, as Reggina needed a victory to stay in Serie A. Coming back from an 11-point Calciopoli penalty, they had to do without the suspended Alessandro Lucarelli and Pasquale Foggia. Ronaldo made a surprise comeback early from a thigh strain, while Yoann Gourcuff and Ricardo Oliveira sat out a ban.

Nicola Amoruso gave Reggina a precious lead in some style. He had his back to goal and flicked the ball up twice around the six-yard box to turn and strike.

Milan fought back and had a series of shots charged down in the space of the same move, then Andrea Campagnolo fingertipped a Christian Brocchi daisy-cutter round the post.

Former Reggina striker Marco Borriello thought he had scored, but his header struck Giandomenico Mesto's back practically on the line.

Gazzi's drive from 20 metres skimmed the upright and at the other end Borriello sprung the offside trap to drill wide when he really should have done better.

Luca Vigiani fired off target from the edge of the area and Ronaldo brought a tough save out of Campagnolo on the stroke of half-time.

Brocchi's ball over the defence found a Marcos Cafu volley off target, but Giuseppe Favalli's howler in his own area almost handed Amoruso a second goal.

Moments later Cafu's angled drive on the counter clipped the base of the upright.

Zeljko Kalac flew to tip another Amoruso strike out from under the bar, but Reggina doubled their lead on 67 minutes. Vigiani cut back to the edge of the area for Amerini to strike with the outside of his right foot.

Milan wanted a penalty for a Maurizio Lanzaro handling offence to block Cafu's shot.

Reggina: Campagnolo; Di Dio (Nardini 77), Aronica, Lanzaro, Modesto, Tedesco, Gazzi, Vigiani, Mesto, Bianchi, Amoruso

Milan: Kalac, Simic, Bonera, Kaladze, Favalli, Cafù, Brocchi, Pirlo, Serginho, Ronaldo, Borriello

Ref: Rocchi

Ibrahimovic wants AC Milan move!
27.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has approached Milan to ask for a transfer, hints Carlo Ancelotti. “Nobody would suspect him. If I reveal his name, it’ll be chaos…”

It was no secret that the Rossoneri were close to signing former Juventus man Ibra last summer, but because they had to wait until their Champions League preliminary round was completed to know their strategy, Inter got there first.

Now that he has been a key figure in the Nerazzurri’s Scudetto triumph and Milan are champions of Europe, there are claims he wants to move on.

“Many champions have approached us. They all want us now,” smiled Ancelotti in yesterday’s Press conference.

“That includes one player who is totally above suspicion. If I reveal his name, it’ll be chaos…”

The newspapers this morning all agree on one thing – that man is Inter hero Ibrahimovic.

Already linked with Real Madrid, the real reason for his contract renegotiation problems is a desire to cross the city like Ronaldo, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf before him.

The Swede has reportedly asked for a substantial pay increase from the current £4m per season to at least £5.5m.

He also bitterly criticised the club this week, comparing them unfavourably to the disgraced Juventus side led by Luciano Moggi.

“My agent is currently negotiating a wage increase at Inter. I hope Massimo Moratti is as decisive now as when he signed me,” explained the former Ajax man.

“At Juve, they were a lot clearer on certain things. Moggi was removed because we won too much. It was all jealousy. When I arrived at Inter, the first thing I advised Moratti was to bring in Luciano and change their mentality. Luckily, we won anyway…

“They are two great teams, but that Juve had something more. There was a sense of cohesion that still isn’t present at Inter,” he told ‘Libero’ newspaper.

“Last year when someone played badly, the other teammates lifted him up. Here it is the opposite – whoever plays below par drags the rest of the squad down with him. Inter are still learning what it takes to be at the top.”

This transfer story could bring relations between the two ‘cugini’ to an all-time low. Matters are already extremely tense after the clubs insulted each other at a distance during their trophy celebrations.

Mancini slams foolish AC Milan
27.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Roberto Mancini says Milan know they “made themselves look bad” by insulting Inter during their Champions League festivities.

“I think that they know they made themselves look bad, but these things can happen,” said the Coach after Massimo Ambrosini held a banner on the open-top bus that said ‘You can stick your Scudetto…’

“Mind you, one thing is to offend people and another to sing along with an ironic fan chant. My lads did not do that at Siena and nor will they this Sunday, because it is not right. It won’t happen.”

Yet the Nerazzurri were clearly heard chanting ‘Who doesn’t jump is Rossonero’ when they took the title. Also, Mancini, President Massimo Moratti and captain Javier Zanetti publicly said they hoped Milan would lose the European Cup Final against Liverpool.

Inter will be handed the Scudetto trophy at San Siro this afternoon following their match with Torino.

The Coach refused to comment on controversy within the club, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic praised disgraced former Juventus director Luciano Moggi and said his Bianconeri side was stronger than the current record-breaking Inter.

“I did not read what Ibra said and I am not interested,” snapped Mancio when asked about the interview.

He was more willing to discuss transfer policy, as the Nerazzurri are closer than ever to signing Cagliari hitman David Suazo.

“There is certainly nothing official, but Suazo is a player with the characteristics we are lacking upfront. He is very fast and an excellent counter-attacker.

“I think that, going to play for a big club, he can improve even more. In any case we need someone with those characteristics. If it is Suazo, then fine, if not then we need another player like that.”

Ancelotti: Bring me Barcelona stars
26.5 || webmaster

Football Italia

Carlo Ancelotti is already looking to next season and his wish list includes Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Philippe Mexes.

“I think that to remain at the top of European football, this side needs a few additions,” said the Coach who took Milan to their seventh Champions League trophy this week.

“If we are to sign players, then you may as well make it a real world class figure. Ronaldinho and Eto’o fit the bill and right now Eto’o is perhaps the best striker in circulation, but I shall say no more on the matter.”

The Barcelona and Cameroon star had already been a target last summer following Andriy Shevchenko’s departure, but seems set to leave La Liga at the end of this season, although Inter are also interested in his services.

“Next year we will certainly be competing in the European Super Cup, the Intercontinental Cup, the Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia, so it will be even more important to have players of quality.”

Pippo Inzaghi scored a brace in the 2-1 Final win over Liverpool and from next term Ronaldo will be available for Champions League duty, so where does this leave Alberto Gilardino?

“He is very happy at Milan,” assured Ancelotti. “His season has had ups and downs with a good number of goals scored.”

The question of the ageing defence still needs to be addressed, especially with Kakha Kaladze ready for a Premiership move as he is tired of sitting on the bench.

“Mexes? He is one of the strongest central defenders on the transfer market,” added the Coach when asked about the Roma star.

The days after the Rossoneri’s Champions League heroics have been dominated by controversy over a banner insulting Inter that appeared in Massimo Ambrosini’s hand on the open-top bus.

“I think Ambrosini made a mistake and he understood that, so he apologised. That has to be the end of the matter.”

Milan were cross with their ‘cugini’ after President Massimo Moratti, Coach Roberto Mancini and captain Javier Zanetti repeatedly stated they hoped the San Siro giants would lose the Final in Athens.

“Inter have the right to celebrate their Scudetto because they deserved it, but the same goes for Milan and the Champions League. Everyone makes fun of their rivals, it is part of football and totally normal.”

The season isn’t over yet, as Milan travel to the Stadio Granillo to face a Reggina side battling to stay in Serie A.

“We must try to send out a competitive squad that can give a dignified performance so that we do not unfairly tip the relegation battle in anyone’s favour,” noted the tactician after last night’s party at San Siro.

“Ambrosini picked up a knock, while Paolo Maldini, Inzaghi and Kaka also have a few problems. We’re also without Ronaldo and the suspended Ricardo Oliveira and Yoann Gourcuff.”

Gilardino is expected to start upfront alongside former Reggina youngster Marco Borriello.

Meanwhile, Maldini will extend his career for another season by going under the knife for a recurring knee problem.

“Paolo always makes his own decisions,” said his father, Cesare. “On Tuesday morning he’ll fly to Belgium for surgery and will return to the field at Milanello in two months.”

Beckham: I wanted AC Milan
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Football Italia

David Beckham told the ‘Gazzetta dello Sport’ that the toughest decision of his career was turning down Milan to join LA Galaxy and explains why Antonio Cassano is “crazy.”

The Real Madrid man’s contract expires next month and in January he was free to negotiate with a number of clubs.

Milan announced they had been his number one option if Becks had decided to stay in Europe and the player admits that is true.

“It was not easy to say no to Milan, one of the best clubs in the world. The squad, the Coach, the President, the city and then Ronaldo went there too. It was a very tough choice,” said the England international who today received a surprise recall from Steve McClaren for the friendly against Brazil and Euro 2008 qualifier in Estonia.

“I was honoured, flattered and tempted. But I had to think about my family and wanted a different challenge.

“I am well aware that football in the States cannot be compared to that in Europe, but I see it as a challenge. I am not just going there to play, I am an ambassador for a movement.

“I would have liked to play in Serie A. Italy is a country I love because it has everything – great football, great players, the best food in the world, wine, fashion, countryside. Last year I was in Portofino and have often gone to Tuscany. We even thought of getting a house there.”

Former Real teammate Ronaldo was celebrating the Champions League trophy in Athens and Beckham could have been there with him.

“It was a deserved success, especially considering everything they did during the season. The second leg against Manchester United was the perfect performance. Milan play great football, work hard, score fantastic goals and have extraordinary talents like Kaka.”

Liverpool felt they were unfortunate after losing the Final 2-1 on Wednesday, but Beckham does not see it that way.

“Liverpool know it too, Milan played better in Athens and they won. Filippo Inzaghi has scored extraordinary goals, important goals and fortunate goals. But you cannot talk about luck really in his case – he has been hitting the back of the net all his life and is to be admired.”

The race for the Ballon d’Or is Milan-heavy this year and captain Paolo Maldini is in the running.

“He deserves to challenge for it with Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. Anyone who at the age of 39 is playing in a club like Milan and has the respect that Maldini commands deserves to win. But it will be difficult.”

Beckham is a teammate of current European and World Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro and another Italian talent, Antonio Cassano, at Real.

“They are very different, both great lads. Cassano is crazy, but he’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He is always happy, ready to laugh and joke around, not to mention a real talent. I’d like him to play more.

“Cannavaro is one of the best defenders I have ever known. We got on well off the field as well, we’re good friends.”

The same cannot be said of Coach Fabio Capello, who often clashed with Beckham at the Bernabeu and froze him out after he signed for LA Galaxy.

“He is one of the greatest managers in the world. Whatever you may say about him, his career speaks for itself. He is a winner, someone who believes in his players and is on our side. These are qualities you could see despite the problems within the club.”

Ambrosini apologises for Inter insult
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Football Italia

Massimo Ambrosini has apologised for holding a banner insulting Inter as Milan staged a huge celebration at San Siro last night.

The club continues its festivities after beating Liverpool 2-1 to lift the Champions League for the seventh time on Wednesday in Athens.

Upon their return to Milan on Thursday, the team paraded through the city in an open top bus and Ambrosini was spotted holding a banner urging Inter to ‘Stick your Scudetto…’

“Those who have celebrated straight after a great sporting success know that you can let yourself go and fall into a climate of fun,” wrote the midfielder in an open letter of apology on the club’s official website.

“That is absolutely all it was, good natured fun. Football is not just official statements and good manners spoken through gritted teeth. Between lads who play football there is often an exchange of jokey insults that is never meant to be offensive.

“I am perfectly aware that I was silly and apologise to everyone. It was a gesture made in a moment of euphoria and I hope it will not cancel the image of a fair and correct professional that I have always had in my 15-year career.”

The rivalry between the ‘Cugini’ rose to new heights this month when Inter figures including Coach Roberto Mancini, President Massimo Moratti and captain Javier Zanetti said they would not support Milan in the Champions League and that they would be “irritated” to have their Scudetto party “ruined” by a European Cup celebration.

“All of us Milanisti have an Interista friend and vice versa,” continued Ambrosini. “We exchange a few chants at a distance, but that doesn’t mean there is no respect. If anything, the Milan derby has traditionally been the fairest and probably the only game where Milan and Inter fans go to the stadium together. That is how it must remain, without rancour.”

The evening at San Siro last night saw fireworks and entertainment for the fans, including Coach Carlo Ancelotti singing.

However – and not due to the vocal talents of their tactician – a section of the fans in the Curva Sud staged a protest during the celebration.

They at first turned their backs on the party, then left the area. They were protesting at the arrest this week of seven Milan Ultras, accused of attempted extortion against the club.

Nesta to quit Azzurri
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Football Italia

Alessandro Nesta has hinted he will retire from international football in order to focus more on Milan.

“If I want to continue at the highest level for many more years, then I have to make some choices. Leaving the Nazionale is one of them,” he told ‘Tuttosport.’

The defender has never been very fortunate with the Azzurri, as he missed most of the 2002 and 2006 World Cups with injury.

Nesta was sidelined for four months this season after undergoing surgery for a dislocated shoulder, but his return to fitness proved an important boost in the Rossoneri’s Champions League triumph.

Now 31, the former Lazio star is contracted to Milan until 2011 and could follow teammate Paolo Maldini in taking an early retirement from the Italy squad.

Another Rossoneri hero, Gennaro Gattuso, is putting the Azzurri first. He pledged to dye his hair blonde if Milan won the Champions League, but pointed out he will only do so after the Euro 2008 qualifiers against Lithuania and the Faroe Islands.

“I can go around like that in Italy, but if I go overseas people will think I am insane,” said the midfielder.

Maldini shirt waits for 3G
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Football Italia

Paolo Maldini’s Number 3 jersey will be retired with him, but only until another member of the family plays for Milan.

It is customary in Italy to ‘retire’ the shirt when a legendary player hangs up his boots and, like Franco Baresi before him, Maldini will see the Number 3 put into storage when he decides to quit.

“There is a novelty here though,” pointed out Vice-President Adriano Galliani. “The shirt will be reserved until his son Cristian or any other children of Paolo’s manage to play in Serie A with Milan.”

This is not just an amusing bet, for Cristian is already a starlet in the Rossoneri’s youth system at the age of nine.

He would become the third generation of the Maldini family to play for the club after Cesare won the Champions League in 1963 and son Paolo lifted the same trophy most recently this week.

“The shirt is retired temporarily,” added Galliani. “This is a family story and that jersey belongs only to the Maldinis.”

There is a family atmosphere at Milan at the moment, as this morning Clarence Seedorf’s partner Luviana gave birth to a baby boy. Little Denzel Seedorf weighs 3.2kg and is 49cm long.

Platini: Dear champions AC Milan...
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Football Italia

UEFA President Michel Platini has sent a letter to Milan congratulating the club for winning the Champions League.

The Rossoneri claimed their seventh win in the competition by defeating Liverpool in Athens on Wednesday, thus becoming the world’s most successful outfit with 16 international trophies.

“We want to congratulate your club for winning the 2006-07 Champions League,” read the letter to Vice-President Adriano Galliani.

“There was an amazing atmosphere inside the Spyro Louis Stadium and Milan’s victory reflected the team’s spirit of solidarity, the commitment and desire to make the match a special one.

“We would also like to congratulate your players for the fair-play shown to their opponents even after the final whistle.

“Also, we want to express our appreciation for your supporters’ behaviour, as they celebrated Wednesday’s win in a positive way and proved that football can and must be a sporting and cultural celebration.

“Once again we congratulate your club for this season’s performances and look forward to the Super Cup Final [against Sevilla] in Monaco [on August 31].”

Milan’s participation in this year’s Champions League had been in doubt last summer because of their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal.

Despite initially being withdrawn from the competition, they were eventually admitted to the preliminaries thanks to a legal loophole.

Moratti praises 'lucky' AC Milan
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Football Italia

Inter chief Massimo Moratti has congratulated Milan for their Champions League success – even if he insists Liverpool were the better side on the night.

“I saw the match and I want to compliment Milan for their win,” said Moratti, whose Nerazzurri side lifted Lo Scudetto this season.

“However, I must admit that Liverpool played better in the match itself and the Rossoneri were a bit lucky…

“But they also showed the determination needed in such an important match, which then ended as they had planned.”

There has been some tension between the two city rivals recently after Inter boss Roberto Mancini insisted that winning Serie A was more difficult than lifting the European Cup.

And relations were tested again last night when a banner insulting Inter’s title success briefly appeared on the Rossoneri’s open-top bus as it made its way through the streets of the city.

“I have nothing to really say about the incident,” remarked Moratti. “These things are just part of the game.”

However, some members of the Inter management are understood to have taken offence at the antics.

Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani has apologised though. “As soon as I was told about it I immediately had it removed,” he noted.

The city of Milan promises to be the party capital of Italy over this weekend. The San Siro will host Milan’s Champions League celebrations this evening and then Inter’s Scudetto feast on Sunday.

Inzaghi: It was a dream
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Football Italia

Milan hero Filippo Inzaghi insists he fulfilled a childhood dream by scoring a brace in the Champions League Final.

The striker netted a decisive double in the 2-1 win over Liverpool this week and he admits his Athens memories will last forever.

“You dream about scoring two goals in a Final when you’re a kid,” said the 2006 World Cup winner.

“The goals I scored on Wednesday were the most important of my whole career,” continued Super Pippo.

“It was an unforgettable match. Nights like these remain with you for your entire life and it is clear that two goals in the Final leave you with few words to say.”

Inzaghi is also delighted that this week’s victory has helped to erase the ghosts of Istanbul in 2005, a game he missed.

“That was terrible for me,” he added. “I was in the stands and I hoped I would one day face Liverpool again – in order to help my team take revenge.

“These are the stories that make football a great sport.”

Inzaghi, who will turn 34 in August, is aware that playing time might be restricted in the future at the San Siro, but he still wants to contribute when asked.

“I will have to play less and that is only right,” he added. “I will try to do my best when I am fielded and will play only when I am fit to do so.

“I would like to reach the landmark of 100 goals for Milan,” explained the striker, who has scored 82 times so far. “Nevertheless, I plan on ending my career here – if the club agrees.”

Milan returned to Italy yesterday afternoon and won the plaudits on their fans on an open-top bus ride through the streets of Italy’s fashion capital last night.

They will parade the trophy yet again at the San Siro this evening from 21.00 hours local time. Entry will be free to season tickets holders. Other fans will be charged just one euro.

Munich was key, says Ancelotti
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Football Italia

Milan Coach Carlo Ancelotti believes the 2-0 win in Munich was the turning point in the club’s run towards the Champions League title.

The San Siro outfit claimed their seventh win in the competition by defeating Liverpool in Athens on Wednesday night, but the tactician insists the victory was born against Bayern in Germany.

“This year was very hard for us and that is why this victory makes us even happier,” said Ancelotti to Milan Channel.

“The match won in Munich was crucial. We hadn’t played well up to that moment, but then we finally took off the handbrake and did very well.

“If this Final was different to how we had played previously then it is basically because of Liverpool’s merits and not because of our demerits.”

Although Pippo Inzaghi grabbed the decisive goals on Wednesday, Carletto has praised his squad’s unity throughout a problematic campaign.

“We are a strong group and there is harmony between me and the players – this makes the difference,” he added.

“We all feel that we belong to this outfit, as proved by the long careers of some of my men like Paolo Maldini.

“This is vital in achieving the important results we have obtained over these years.

“My contract? There is no hurry, we have plenty of time to discuss my agreement,” smiled the boss.

“I would like to stay here for as long as I feel the fire inside and there is the will to do well, but this must be reciprocal.”

Thousands of fans lined the streets of Milan last night as the squad paraded through the city in an open-top bus which concluded at the Piazza Duomo.

Ancelotti and his players will also be present at a special Champions League party this evening at the Stadio Meazza.

Zambrotta snubs AC Milan option
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Football Italia

Barcelona’s Gianluca Zambrotta has rubbished reports that he is on the verge of joining European champions Milan.

The Italian international has been heavily associated with the Rossoneri who have cash to spend on the market thanks to their Champions League success.

However, the man who left Juventus for the Nou Camp last summer following Calciopoli insists he is going nowhere.

“I’m staying at Barcelona and I’m 100 per cent sure of that fact,” said the Italian international full-back.

The former Bari ace has had a difficult first season in La Liga even if he insists returning to the peninsula has never entered his mind.

“I have never thought about moving back to Italy or playing for a different club,” added the former winger.

“I am very happy to be a part of Barcelona and I’m settled here.

“Milan? All I will say is that I have many friends there who I’d like to congratulate for their Champions League success.”

Emerson close to AC Milan
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Football Italia

Real Madrid midfielder Emerson is being linked with a move to Milan after reportedly reaching an agreement with the European champions.

The Brazilian left Juventus last summer after the club’s demotion to Serie B, but hasn’t enjoyed his new life in La Liga and is allegedly ready to head back to the peninsula.

According to Spanish newspaper Sport, Milan have already finalised a deal with El Puma, who would join the San Siro outfit in the summer.

The player had already been paired with Milan in the past few months after Rossoneri Coach Carlo Ancelotti made it clear that he would be more than happy to have the 32-year-old at his disposal.

The former Roma star has been heckled by fans at the Santiago Bernabeu and reportedly informed Los Blancos of his desire to leave two months ago, after speaking to chief Ramon Calderon.

Emerson’s market value has seemingly dropped since his move to the Merengues, but the Rossoneri are allegedly ready to invest £7m plus striker Ricardo Oliveira, who currently earns £4.2m a season.

Milan will earn approximately £48m thanks to their win in the Champions League Final against Liverpool and have decided to invest the money in the transfer market.

The club’s wish list is also reported to include Andriy Shevchenko of Chelsea as well as Barcelona duo Samuel Eto’o and Gianluca Zambrotta, although all three have denied they will be changing clubs this summer.

FIGC thanks triumphant AC Milan
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Football Italia

The Italian Football Federation has thanked Milan for winning the Champions League Final in Athens.

The Rossoneri claimed their seventh victory in the prestigious European competition, ending an amazing year for Italian football after the World Cup win, despite last summer’s Calciopoli scandal.

“Thanks goes to Coach Carlo Ancelotti, captain Paolo Maldini and all the other protagonists, six of whom were part of the World Cup team,” read the note on the FIGC’s official website.

“Thanks to Milan, Italian football conquers another European throne. After the World Cup win by the Azzurri coached by Marcello Lippi, Milan have given Italy another prestigious trophy."

Massimo Oddo, Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Alberto Gilardino and Filippo Inzaghi were the Azzurri players to achieve that incredible double, and Inzaghi was singled out for special praise.

“He is a timeless scorer and was the man behind two goals that “knocked out” Liverpool in the Champions League Final played in Athens,” continued the statement.

“This win confirms the quality of Italian football and is a significant and prestigious way of closing what has been a difficult year for Milan.”

FIGC President Giancarlo Abete was at the Olympic Stadium for Wednesday’s game and was excited to the see the Rossoneri make up for the 2005 defeat.

“On behalf of all Italian football I would like to express my appreciation and give my sincere congratulations to the team, the Coaches and the entire staff, but above all to the players on the field.

“When the Milan squad walked in front of us to receive the award I was especially pleased to see some familiar faces,” said the Federation chief

“They all deserve this, from captain Maldini - one of the symbols of world football – to the players with whom I shared the joy of winning the World Cup in Germany,” concluded Abete.

Nesta gives critics cold shoulder
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Football Italia

Milan defender Alessandro Nesta says he proved his doubters wrong in the Champions League Final after a long spell out with a shoulder injury.

The Italian international offered an outstanding performance at the heart of the Rossoneri defence and is glad to be back after surgery on a dislocated shoulder kept him sidelined for four months.

“I have been criticised a lot in the past year. Some people even said that Italy won the World Cup because I was injured,” the former Lazio star told uefa.com.

“But I have come back and I am delighted we won because Milan are like a family to me,” added the defender, who recently extended his contract with the Rossoneri until 2011.

“When I returned from injury the team was starting to play well again and that helped me. Now the season has ended on a wonderful high. It wasn’t a beautiful game but we had to win and I feel it was a fair result.”

Milan will now face UEFA Cup winners Sevilla in the European Super Cup on August 31 at the Stade Louis II in Monaco, having won four previous titles in 1989, 1990, 1994 and 2003.

Kaladze crowns King Kaka
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Football Italia

Kakha Kaladze believes teammate Kaka deserves to win this year’s Golden Ball after Milan’s Champions League win.

The Rossoneri defeated Liverpool 2-1 in Athens, claiming the title for the seventh time, and the Brazilian finished as the competition’s top scorer with 10 goals, even if he failed to hit the net in the Final.

“What Kaka has done this year is worthy of the Golden Ball,” insisted the Georgian international defender.

“He has been extraordinary throughout the season and he fully deserves it,” added Kaladze, who replaced Marek Jankulovski 10 minutes before the end of the match.

“We have had a very strange season right from the summer, but we showed great character, reaching the Final and lifting the trophy. We are all very satisfied and are overjoyed with this result.

“Paolo Maldini will continue to play? That is a problem for me, as he is the best! I have to talk to the club about this, as I cannot accept another season on the bench! It’s just not fair!” he grinned.

Kuyt disappointed by defeat
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Football Italia

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt admits that he was pleased to score against Milan but would have gladly swapped the goal for a win.

The Reds were defeated 2-1, thanks to a goal in each half from Filippo Inzaghi, and the Dutchman’s header one minute before the end was not enough to spark a comeback.

“It was nice for me to score in a Champions League Final but, in the end, I would swap that goal for a win every time,” said the Dutch international.

“It is so disappointing. We honestly felt we were the better team and were in control before Inzaghi scored - we had even kept Kaka quiet,” added Kuyt, who started the game as a lone striker.

“We had a strong start, but then they scored. The Coach told us to keep doing the same things in the second half, but things just didn’t come off for us.

“We fought hard to get the goal but Milan hit us on the break with the second and suddenly I think we all felt the pace of the game,” he admitted.

“In any case, I would like to thank the fans for their support right to the final whistle, they are the best fans in the world,” concluded Kuyt.

Captain Steven Gerrard declared that his feelings were completely the opposite compared to those after the Final in Istanbul.

“It’s difficult to take but that’s football,” the midfielder told Sky Sports.

“You have to accept the defeat, move on and try to pick yourself up, but at the moment it’s heartbreaking.

“I thought we started well, we were in control just how we wanted to be but when you do that you have to score. They scored with a bit of luck, we gave everything but it wasn’t to be,” explained Gerrard.

Ambrosini makes up lost time
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Football Italia

Massimo Ambrosini was thrilled after Milan claimed the Champions League trophy for a seventh time in Athens. “I was finally a protagonist.”

The Rossoneri defeated Liverpool 2-1 thanks to a brace by Filippo Inzaghi, atoning for the defeat to the Reds in Istanbul two years ago.

“This was a great year for me, I have been wearing this shirt for over 10 years and I had already won a lot, but this season I was finally at the centre. I needed this,” Ambrosini told Sky Italia.

“In past years I did not play much because of several injuries and I didn’t feel I was really part of the team’s victories.

“But this time I appeared in all the crucial matches and to crown it all off with the trophy is just magnificent,” added the midfielder, who missed the 2005 Final through injury.

“This match was very difficult, they closed all the space that other teams usually leave open for us.

“We showed intelligence to fight them at their own game, with aggression and determination as well as our quality,” concluded the Rossonero.

The Athens’ triumph allowed Italy to join Spain as the most successful country in the history of the European Cup, moving Serie A on to 11 victories in total.

Galliani enjoys 'special' night
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Football Italia

Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani claims this is the “most enjoyable” of their Champions League wins after the long and tortuous journey to Athens.

“It is an immense joy to have this trophy at the end of an extraordinary year. Of the five Champions League trophies we have won, I have to say this is perhaps the most enjoyable after everything we have been through.”

The Rossoneri were originally excluded from the competition after the Calciopoli trial, but allowed back in via the preliminary round following an appeal.

It was hastily arranged with just two weeks to prepare, but they made it all the way to the Final and beat Liverpool – the side they so unluckily lost out to in 2005.

“It is not elegant to talk of revenge after victory. Milan have eliminated two great sides like Bayern Munich and Manchester United, while tonight we got back some of the luck that abandoned us in Istanbul. Putting those two Finals together, I’d say the Rossoneri comfortably did more than Liverpool.”

Galliani is famous for his wild celebrations in the stands and irrepressible passion he shows during games, so it is no surprise he couldn’t bear to watch after Dirk Kuyt’s 88th minute goal in the 2-1 victory.

“I left before the Final whistle to sit in the locker room, as I could not have lived through another equaliser! It would have haunted me for the rest of my days.”

Milan now turn to the future and Galliani was eager to point out there would be no wholesale changes – starting from Coach Carlo Ancelotti.

“There are no problems with Ancelotti and nobody will be leaving Milan. This is a family – it is not a cliché – because there are players who feel they belong to the club and that is one of our greatest strengths,” said the transfer guru.

“I don’t know if we will bring in any more big names, if not then we can begin again from a side that is at the top of Europe. We have won more European trophies than any other club with 16 compared to Real Madrid’s 15. Now we will go to Tokyo for the Intercontinental Cup.”

In 2003 Galliani admitted he had slept alongside the Champions League trophy after their win over Juventus. Would he do the same in Athens?

“We have to work out who will sleep with the Cup tonight – the President or me!”

Seedorf admires AC Milan spirit
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Football Italia

Clarence Seedorf has won his fourth Champions League and says the key was Milan beating Liverpool at their own game.

“It was not the best match. We were very concentrated and we knew we couldn't make any mistakes against them," noted the Dutchman.

This Final had been painted as a challenge between the Rossoneri’s quality and Liverpool’s determination, but the Italians brought out some of their other characteristics in the 2-1 victory.

"Hard work makes it happen. We had such a great spirit this year. It was difficult to play our total game and we knew from the beginning they would close us, Kaka and me. They played well, but had no great chances."

Seedorf is the only man to have won the competition with three different clubs – Ajax and Real Madrid before his two for Milan.

He joined his teammates in noting this was a particularly special trophy considering they were originally excluded due to the Calciopoli trial and had to go through a hastily-arranged preliminary round.

"I am so proud to be part of this team. We worked hard this year, a very difficult year. Liverpool had a lot of fighting spirit and were more aggressive, but in the second half we had the better of the game."

Blatter praises AC Milan win
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Football Italia

FIFA President Sepp Blatter hailed Milan’s “deserved victory” a year after Italy won the World Cup.

“Definitely Milan’s victory was deserved over 90 minutes,” said Blatter, who was famously critical of Italian football and refused to hand over the trophy to the Azzurri in Berlin.

“I am very happy to be present in this great festival of European football with two sides who played a particularly great second half.”

The Rossoneri – who fielded seven Italians in the starting XI and nine in total – saw off Liverpool 2-1 in the Champions League Final in Athens.

“Today we saw how football is all about emotion and the fans were marvellous. I am content to say that the best team won and straight after the final whistle I personally invited President Silvio Berlusconi and Milan for the Intercontinental Cup.”

They will challenge the winners of the other continental trophies in Tokyo in December.

Kaka: Istanbul was a fluke
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Football Italia

Kaka insists Milan’s defeat to Liverpool in 2005 was a mere fluke and the right team won this evening.

The Rossoneri will never get over that loss in Istanbul, when leading 3-0 at half-time they conceded three goals in six minutes to eventually fail on a penalty shoot-out.

When Dirk Kuyt scored at the 88th to make the scoreline 2-1, did Kaka fear a repeat comeback from the Premiership side?

“Absolutely not,” assured the Brazilian. “We knew that if we had played that Istanbul match a thousand times it would not have happened again. So, after tonight’s goal, we knew it would not be the same.”

Kaka is crowned top scorer in the Champions League with 10 goals – four clear of Peter Crouch in second place – and is the hot favourite for the Ballon d’Or.

“I have always said that any personal prizes would come as a consequence of what I did with the team. Today I saw a great Milan.”

Gattuso: Italians do it better!
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Football Italia

Gennaro Gattuso has won the World Cup and Champions League. “That’ll teach those who say Italian football is in crisis!”

The battling Milan midfielder proved a key figure in both tournaments and wasted no time in answering his critics.

“That’ll teach those who say Italian football is in crisis! In one year we have won the World Cup and the Champions League. Some crisis, eh?”

The Rossoneri beat Liverpool 2-1 in Athens with a brace from World Cup winner Pippo Inzaghi to take the trophy for the second time in five years.

However, Gattuso does not see this as wiping away the agony of their Final lost to the Reds in Istanbul two years ago.

“That defeat will remain with us for all our lives. This is another trophy. Today we are celebrating and Liverpool are crying, the same way we did in 2005.”

Benitez bows down to AC Milan
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Football Italia

Rafa Benitez’s men had the luck of the draw in Istanbul and claims fortune turned on Liverpool this time around.

"We played really well in the first half but conceded a goal through bad luck," he said after the 2-1 Champions League defeat to Milan.

"We were pushing and left a space and they have the quality to make the difference. We were trying to keep the ball but you need to take the chances."

The Spanish tactician conceded that Carlo Ancelotti’s men were worthy winners on the night in Athens.

"We lost against a good team with top-class players," he said.

Defender Jamie Carragher was left kicking himself after Andrea Pirlo’s free kick struck Pippo Inzaghi to open the scoring just before half-time.

"I think the best team won," he said. "It was pretty even in the first half, but to give away a goal just before half-time was a killer blow. I was in two minds as whether to control it or clear it, but I should have done better."

Pippo's greatest moment
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Football Italia

Brace hero Pippo Inzaghi has called his Athens heroics “the greatest game of my career” as he sunk Liverpool single-handed.

“I am so happy. A few years ago I hoped to win two Champions Leagues as a protagonist, but didn’t entirely believe it. This has been an unforgettable night and a momentous occasion for all of us,” said the man who also helped Milan to the 2003 edition.

“These goals cannot be like any other. I don’t forget the preliminary round goal either, as without the one I scored against Red Star Belgrade we would not have been here. One thing is for sure – this night will remain long in my memory as the best moment of my career.”

He was in the stands in Istanbul and injury also hampered much of this season for the former Juventus striker, but he recovered at the right time to make a massive impact.

“I am an optimist and always believe. I love my work like crazy and had never scored in the Final before. Clearly this is the greatest match of my life. Also partly because of the way we started this season, it is a magic trophy.

“President Berlusconi called me and said I would score two goals. I kept that to myself, but he must be a psychic!”

Inzaghi has now scored 38 Champions League goals and 58 in all European club competition.

“I suffered an injury in January, but I played in Munich, against Manchester and here. We cut short our holidays and don’t forget we were on the pitch on August 9 for the preliminary round,” added the World Cup winner.

“I will take a well-earned rest over the summer, as I didn’t have any real holiday this year. It will be a very enjoyable time!”

Oddo: Turning point in Munich
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Football Italia

Massimo Oddo reveals the moment Milan knew they were destined for this trophy – in Munich.

“Before the second leg in Munich I was talking to Massimo Ambrosini and we said if we won that, then we would win the Champions League. Luckily we were right,” explained the defender.

The Rossoneri had drawn 2-2 with Bayern Munich at San Siro, but the 2-0 quarter-final victory in Germany sent them on their way.

“It has certainly been a fantastic year when I have won the World Cup and the Champions League. I could not have asked for better!

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t entirely feel the World Cup was ‘mine’ as I only played around 20 minutes, but I was always ready and tried to make myself useful. It was a wonderful experience.”

Oddo played 90 minutes in Athens, but only joined Milan from Lazio in a drawn-out January transfer saga.

“I must thank the Coach and my teammates for helping me to settle immediately. It is not easy to join a big club mid-season and learn their system. I must also thank Lazio, as if I am here now it is at least partly because of that side.”

However, there was a little too much celebrating from the right-back in Athens.

“I’ve lost my winner’s medal! I’ve got to find it again or get them to make me another one!”

Ancelotti: This was our destiny
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Football Italia

Carlo Ancelotti believes it was in Milan’s destiny to win the Champions League at the end of “what could have been my last season.”

The Rossoneri outplayed Liverpool and lost in Istanbul, but despite a less crushing display came out 2-1 winners this time around.

“The quality of our football was certainly much better two years ago, but this is football. Our opponents were tough and very tight, so it was difficult for us to play,” said the Coach.

“This trophy was in our destiny considering everything that happened to us in Istanbul and this season. We didn’t so much deserve it for what we did tonight as all we had to go through to get here.”

They were originally excluded from the competition due to the Calciopoli trial, but won an appeal to go through the preliminary round with just two weeks to prepare.

“The greatest satisfaction is having won the Champions League in what could have been my last season here,” confessed Ancelotti, who has often been under fire.

“Up until November it wasn’t looking good for me, but we turned things around. I have a special feeling with this club and only here could I have achieved so much in five years.

“In the moments of difficulty we always had great synchronicity between the club, Coach and players. The real difference came in the mid-season training camp in Malta during the Winter break. For a long time we were without injured players like Pippo Inzaghi, Kakha Kaladze, Paolo Maldini, Serginho and Alessandro Nesta.

“We have a special feeling with this competition and also saw it as our best chance of winning some silverware this season.”

Milan were forced to start Serie A with an eight-point penalty, but in recent months have stepped up a few gears and finished in the top four.

Inzaghi was the hero in Athens after bagging a brace, taking his career tally to 42 goals in 69 Champions League appearances.

“In Istanbul Inzaghi was not even on the bench, as he had an injury. I think he was not at 100 per cent today either, but he feels and experiences these games more than anyone else. I lost count of how many times he needed the toilet before kick-off!”

The opener was a lucky deflection off Andrea Pirlo’s free kick, while he sprung the offside trap for the second.

“Liverpool do not attack very much and try to take advantage of deadball situations. When Peter Crouch came on they started to put the ball long, but Inzaghi’s goal opened the game up,” added Ancelotti.

“Inzaghi has scored many goals that can be considered fortunate, but the truth is he always brings something to them. His frenetic approach, his sense of positioning and eye for goal mean he always finds himself in the right place.”

Mrs Shevchenko backs Milan move
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Football Italia

Andriy Shevchenko’s agent may say he has no intention of returning to Milan, but a more important figure says otherwise – wife Kristen Pazik.

The American model was widely believed to be the reason why he moved to Chelsea last summer, as she wanted to be in an English-speaking city to raise their children.

“We feel at home in Italy and I think Andriy would build a great partnership with Ronaldo, who is one of my favourite players,” she told ‘Chi’ magazine.

“My husband is my other half and it is important for me that he is happy. He has to play where it is best for him.

“In my country they say home is where the heart is – and Italy is a home for us, far more so than London.”

One of the reasons given for Shevchenko’s failure to settle at Stamford Bridge has been his trouble with the different language and culture after seven years in Milan.

The Ukrainian hitman has flown out to Athens for tonight’s Final as a guest of his former club, cheering them on as they meet Liverpool.

“I will be following the game with the desire for revenge after that defeat two years ago I still cannot explain,” said Mr Shevchenko.

“I still support Milan for my teammates, the club, the President and for myself. I think that Milan need to avenge all of us who played in Istanbul.”

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!: CL Final: AC Milan 2:1 Liverpool - match report
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Football Italia

Scorers: Inzaghi 45, 80 (M), Kuyt 88 (L)

Pippo Inzaghi's brace has given Milan revenge over Liverpool with a 2-1 Champions League triumph in Athens!

These teams clashed in Istanbul in the 2005 Final with the Rossoneri throwing away a 3-0 lead to lose on penalties. Two years later they were back fighting for the trophy and Paolo Maldini recovered from a knee injury to play his eighth Final. Pippo Inzaghi was picked ahead of Alberto Gilardino to start upfront, while Liverpool opted for Dirk Kuyt with support from Steven Gerrard and Bolo Zenden.

Both sides qualified for the tournament via the preliminary round, as Milan were originally excluded due to the Calciopoli trial, but battled their way to their third Final in five years.

Jamie Carragher charged down an Inzaghi volley after five minutes, then Clarence Seedorf's first touch let him down from an overhit Marek Jankulovski cross. A terrible Jankulovski error on the edge of his own area gave Jermaine Pennant the ball, but Nelson Dida was at full stretch for a fingertip save.

Pennant found more space down the right and luckily for Milan Gerrard scuffed his shot. At the other end Inzaghi sprung the offside trap on Andrea Pirlo's chipped pass over the defence, but couldn't get the ball under control with only Pepe Reina to beat.

Reina got down well to smother a Kaka strike from distance and Daniel Agger escaped without a card for his cynical shoulder-charge on Kaka. Gerrard had too much space to drill over the bar on the counter and Kaka flicked the ball round two Liverpool players on the sole of his boot before he was eventually stopped by Javier Mascherano.

Pennant again was allowed to push forward and the ball eventually fell to Xabi Alonso's shot that whistled just wide of the far post. John Arne Riise blasted well over, but another Jankulovski error handed Liverpool a great chance with Kuyt's finish deflected off target.

Gennaro Gattuso was the first player in the Final to enter the book for a sliding tackle on Alonso on 40 minutes.

Alonso pushed Kaka on the edge of the area and from the resulting Pirlo free kick on the edge of the D took a crucial deflection off Inzaghi to beat Reina. Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez was furious, as he felt it was a handling offence, but the ball struck him between his shoulder and his chest.

There was a pitch invasion from a local Greek supporter straight after the restart, who was dragged off the field by stewards. Kuyt and Kaka were both halted for incorrect offside positions and Jankulovski was shown the yellow card for a futile foul on Pennant.

Inzaghi pounced on an Agger error inside the area, but hesitated and allowed the Liverpool man to recover. Mascherano was booked for going through the back of Pirlo and the first substitution saw Harry Kewell replace Zenden. Kaka sprinted past Carragher and the England international could do nothing but drag him back for a yellow card. Pirlo curled the free kick over the bar.

Gattuso handed the ball straight to Gerrard and the captain ran towards the area, but the tame right-foot shot was into the arms of Dida. It was arguably Liverpool's best opportunity of the game so far.

There was bad news for Carlo Ancelotti on 70 minutes when Alessandro Nesta pulled up with breathing difficulties, saying he felt sick, but the defender recovered and was able to carry on.

Pirlo's pass struck the referee and fell kindly for Gerrard, but the shot was off target from 20 metres, then Gattuso won the ball back only for Kaka to be charged down. A corner came out for Clarence Seedorf and was deflected off Riise before Mascherano closed down Inzaghi with a crucial tackle.

Liverpool's top scorer with six goals, Peter Crouch came on for Mascherano in the final 12 minutes, so Kakha Kaladze replaced the disappointing Jankulovski.

There was a fantastic opportunity for Milan, but Inzaghi was surprised that Gerrard failed to get a touch on Kaka's cross, so it slipped past him. Carragher did very well to stop Kaka's run through the middle.

However, Milan doubled their lead with eight minutes to go. Kaka threaded a perfect pass through for Inzaghi. He went round Reina and placed a delicate but remarkably precise angled drive under the goalkeeper from the tightest of angles. SuperPippo was in the stands in Istanbul due to injury, so this was a particularly special chance to avenge that day.

Riise battled to hold off another Kaka run, but Dida did brilliantly to fingertip a Crouch long-range drive over the bar. Alberto Gilardino replaced brace hero Inzaghi and Arbeloa came on for Steve Finnan.

Milan can never relax when it's a Champions League Final against Liverpool, as they got one back with less than two minutes left on the clock. A corner kick took several touches on the way to Kuyt's header at the back post for his first Champions League goal for the club.

The referee added three minutes of stoppages and Giuseppe Favalli came on for Seedorf. The Dutchman joined Inzaghi in stalking up and down the sidelines shouting at his teammates. Gerrard's shot was charged down and Milan lifted the Champions League trophy!

Milan: Dida; Oddo, Nesta, Maldini, Jankulovski (Kaladze 79); Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini, Seedorf (Favalli 91); Kaka; Inzaghi (Gilardino 87)

Liverpool: Reina; Finnan (Arbeloa 87), Carragher, Agger, Riise; Pennant, Xabi Alonso, Mascherano (Crouch 78), Zenden (Kewell 59); Gerrard; Kuyt

Ref: Fandel (Ger)

Maldini senior backs AC Milan
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Football Italia

Cesare Maldini is confident that the strength of Carlo Ancelotti’s squad will make the difference in tonight’s Champions League Final against Liverpool.

Maldini, father of Rossoneri legend Paolo, captained Milan in their 2-1 victory over Benfica at Wembley in 1963 and he believes that his son will do the same this evening.

“I am optimistic, as always,” said the former Italy Coach. “It doesn’t really matter who will score or who will be the Man of the Match. The only thing that counts is to win.

“I hope that a host of Rossoneri players will shine. Milan reached the Final thanks to the quality and strength of their squad, not only because of a few individuals, and that can make the difference.”

The match at the Spyro Louis Stadium will also see Coaches Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez meet again after the 2005 Final saw the English giants triumph on penalties.

“They are two very different tacticians,” continued Maldini senior.

“Benitez is pragmatic and his methods are effective. Ancelotti has been decisive in the side’s fortunes, he is loyal and gives serenity to the entire dressing room.

“Was there a key match for Milan in the run towards the Final? They have all been important,” noted Cesare.

“However, I think that the games against Bayern Munich and Manchester United showed how strong the Rossoneri are.”

Forget revenge, says Desailly
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Football Italia

Marcel Desailly maintains former club Milan will not be motivated by revenge in the Champions League Final with Liverpool.

The Rossoneri are hoping to make up for the disastrous 2005 defeat in Istanbul, but the Frenchman is adamant that the San Siro outfit’s desire to win would be the same even against different opponents.

“Anyone who talks about revenge against Liverpool does not understand the philosophy of Milan. I was there for five years and the whole club is geared towards winning,” said Desailly to the BBC.

“This game will be no different and Milan will expect to become European champions,” continued the Frenchman.

“It would not matter if they were playing Liverpool or Real Madrid or Barcelona, they would want to win.

“Of course the 2005 loss was painful and that feeling will be fresh in the memories of players like Gennaro Gattuso, Paolo Maldini and Kaka.

“Losing a European Cup Final is always very painful, but Istanbul was on a different level for Milan because of the circumstances of the defeat,” continued the former Chelsea man.

“When they went into half-time 3-0 up, they obviously thought they had won and if they had been playing another Italian team or a Spanish side they would have. But English teams never stop fighting or believing.”

Desailly was one of the players who lifted the Cup in 1994, when Milan defeated favourites Barcelona 4-0 in the same Athens stadium.

“I scored one of the goals back then,” he added. “It was a night when everything clicked for us and Barcelona did not have a chance.

“The whole of the 1994 team are getting together for a meal before this year’s match and I hope that can inspire the current side.”

Virdis just wants victory
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Football Italia

Former Milan striker Pietro Paolo Virdis insists there is no need for the Rossoneri to convincingly beat Liverpool. “A 1-0 would be just fine,” he said.

Virdis won the European Cup with the club in 1989 when he was part of the squad which demolished Steaua Bucharest 4-0 in Barcelona.

However, the ex-Juventus man insists that he would be content with the narrowest of victories in Athens.

“I don’t know what the final result will be, but a 1-0 win would be fine for me,” he said. “The thing that counts in a Final is to win, not the result which allows you to achieve that victory.

“Milan are in great shape and have reached the Final in a rising crescendo,” continued Virdis to Datasport.

“I think the Rossoneri are favourites, although it will not be an easy match because Liverpool have a troublesome way of playing, even away from home.”

The Sardinian-born Virdis, who was an unsung hero at Milan in the mid ‘80s, has great respect for the English side and their captain Steven Gerrard in particular.

“Gerrard is a dynamic player and has great personality,” continued the former Italian Under-21 international. “He is a complete footballer.

“I think that the final result will depend on Milan’s capacity to serve Kaka and Clarence Seedorf with the ball.”

Shevchenko not in AC Milan talks
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Football Italia

A spokesman for Andriy Shevchenko has rubbished reports that the Chelsea ace is in transfer negotiations with Milan.

The Ukrainian has been heavily paired with a Rossoneri return after his problematic season with the Stamford Bridge outfit following his £30m arrival last summer.

Reports yesterday claimed that Shevchenko had been granted permission to leave by owner Roman Abramovich and was scheduled to meet Milan representatives in Athens, where he has been invited for the Champions League Final against Liverpool.

“Andriy is not in talks of any kind with Milan,” said one of his entourage. “He has a contract with Chelsea and that is the end of the matter.

“Milan have invited several former players to this showpiece match and Andriy is just one of those players. There is nothing else to it and he has yet to decide whether to attend.

“If he decides to travel to Athens it will only be to see the Final, not to discuss his return to the Rossoneri outfit.”

Milan President Silvio Berlusconi had recently reiterated that the club’s doors would always be wide open for the 2004 Golden Ball winner.

However, Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon stated on Sunday that the FA Cup winners had no plans to sell him despite the player’s disappointing first season in England.

Capitano crowns golden Kaka
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Football Italia

Milan captain Paolo Maldini has proposed teammate Kaka as the “ideal candidate” to win the Ballon d’Or.

The legend was asked of his chances of winning the prestigious trophy for the first time in his career.

“If I haven’t won it up until now, I can’t imagine getting it in 2007,” smiled Maldini in the Press conference ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League Final.

“But these considerations are irrelevant, frankly, as Ricardo absolutely deserves it. I recommend a vote for him to all the jurors – Kaka deserves the Ballon d’Or more than anyone else.”

The Brazilian is the hot favourite to take the trophy assigned by ‘France Football’ and Europe’s top sports journalists, but his odds will be shortened even further if he helps to beat Liverpool in Athens.

“I have always done well against English sides,” said Kaka. “If we play the way we did against Manchester United at San Siro, then it will be difficult to stop us. Thanks to examples like Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta, there is always the desire to win and Milan never feel sated.”

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez said that he will not change his tactical system to control Kaka and that suits the Champions League top scorer right down to the ground.

“In Europe no opponent has man-marked me yet and I think that will be the case again tomorrow. I went so close to winning the trophy two years ago, so tomorrow I hope to write a page in the history of this club.”

Ancelotti: Forget Istanbul
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Football Italia

Carlo Ancelotti insists there is no desire to avenge Istanbul when Milan face Liverpool again. “This is a whole other game.”

The Rossoneri had one of their most heartbreaking nights in 2005 when they lost a 3-0 lead in the Champions League Final, eventually defeated on penalties.

“It will not be easy, but I have no doubts we will give everything. All my decisions have been made,” stated the Coach.

“The Istanbul story is finished and has nothing to do with this match. This is a whole other game.

“On a purely technical level perhaps Milan were stronger two years ago and for that side it was almost ‘normal’ to reach the Final. For today’s team it is extraordinary and we want to end this year on a high.”

Both Milan and Liverpool had to go through the preliminary round to reach the Champions League this season, although for the Italians it was only after the Calciopoli trial had initially ruled them out of the competition altogether.

“We deserved this Final more than any other side because we suffered like nobody else. We had points penalties and had to rush our pre-season training to prepare for the preliminary round. If we have the fortune to lift the trophy, then it will be absolutely and totally deserved.”

Milan had just two weeks to prepare for the opener in August and rushed many of their World Cup stars back early from their summer holidays.

“This has been the most difficult season in my time at Milan,” added Ancelotti. “We ran into problems we had never encountered before, but the great unity between myself, the team and club proved decisive.

“We never sought alibis or scapegoats, we just tried to resolve our problems together, so what we have been through makes us stronger for this Final. We feel very strong in these days leading up to the match.”

The tactician and former midfielder has been criticised by some sections of the Italian Press for being too close to his players, but he maintains that is more of a strength than a weakness.

“I don’t see myself as the leader of the group, but rather a part of the group. We all come together to answer questions and solve problems. We have worked well and I hope it will be considered even better tomorrow.”

Considering the lessons of 2005, will Ancelotti change his system to avoid another Reds pitfall?

“In a Final the important thing is to imprint your quality on the game through good football. For us possession is as crucial as defending and counter-attacks are for Liverpool.

“Steven Gerrard is charismatic, but you cannot base your match on one player. Liverpool, like Milan, have many other qualities. Our opponents are Liverpool, not Gerrard.”

There were three English semi-finalists, but the trophy could go to the only remaining Italian representative.

“Milan’s presence in this Final shows the strength of Italian football and we do feel ourselves a very Italian side,” concluded Ancelotti.

Benitez won't set Kaka trap
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Football Italia

Liverpool Coach Rafael Benitez insists that he will not change their tactics. “There will be no man-to-man marking on Kaka.”

The Spanish tactician is aware of the Brazilian’s strength, as confirmed by the 10 goals scored in the Champions League so far, but will not change his side’s system.

“Kaka is an excellent player, but we will not study a special marking for him,” said Benitez to the Press this afternoon.

"We cannot just worry about Kaka. Milan are a very good team, in defence, in midfield. But we must concentrate on our own game.

“He is very strong and has scored 10 times, but we do not play man-to-man and we will not change. We will instead try to control the ball, not leaving any spaces to our opponents,” added the boss.

Benitez called on his men to take the chance to lift the Champions League again, two years after the 2005 Final in Istanbul.

“We are here because we have been doing the right things and we deserve to be here. The players have worked hard all season and I will be telling them before kick off not to waste this opportunity.

“If we can play well and win then it will be perfect, but if not then they must come off the field knowing they have done their best.

“It is going to be a tough match and I think the team who scores first will have a great chance. Our plan definitely doesn’t include conceding in the first minute again!” explained the Reds’ boss, referring to the Istanbul match when Liverpool ended the first-half with a 3-0 deficit.

“If you told me now that it will be the same as Istanbul and that we will win again then I’d take that. But I don’t want to go through that kind of match again because I think I would need a doctor this time!

“We have a lot of respect for Milan, they are a very good side with a lot of experience and we saw from their game against Manchester United what they can do.

“The key tomorrow is remembering why we are here and playing the way we have done in Europe all season,” concluded Benitez.

Gerrard: Anything can happen...
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Football Italia

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard insists that Milan are not favourites for Champions League glory on Wednesday night.

Some pundits are backing the Rossoneri to net 2005 Istanbul revenge, but the skipper maintains that Wednesday’s match will be an entirely different story.

“I don’t think either team has an advantage, both have done really well in the competition,” said Gerrard. “It is a one-off game and anything can happen, but the first goal is very important.

“I have watched Milan a lot this season and they are different from 2005. The team is quite different, similar to ours and our changes.

“They showed against Manchester United that they are a fantastic team who deserve a lot of respect.

“We will give them that but we don’t fear them, we are confident we can do the job,” continued the man who will turn 27 on Friday.

“I don’t believe it will be a similar game to 2005. I think it will be much more cautious and despite all the comments I have heard, it is not about me as an individual, it is about the team.

“It is a magnificent achievement to get to two Finals in three years and now we aim to win it again.”

One of the most anticipated personal duels in the game will be between Gerrard and Gennaro Gattuso, a player likened to a kitten by the English ace.

“I am not going into this game worried about Gattuso,” he added. “I am worried about Milan generally and I am worried about myself.

“My main focus is to get myself right. But if I can do that, we will see if Gattuso can stop me. If my form is right and I feel good I am confident I can overcome anything Milan put in my way.

“We take no notice of the mind games. This Final is not about that, it is about two fantastic teams and I am sure the best one on the night will win.”

Savicevic fears revenge mission
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Football Italia

Former Milan legend Dejan Savicevic has urged the Rossoneri to forget about Istanbul 2005 revenge.

The San Siro outfit face Liverpool in the Champions League Final on Wednesday, just two years after throwing away a 3-0 half-time lead in an astonishing defeat to the English giants.

Although a number of Milan players are obviously keen to make up for that painful defeat, Savicevic has told uefa.com that the past must not interfere with the present.

“It is very important for Milan not to play under pressure, not to think about that Final in Istanbul or about revenge,” he stated.

“That was a specific match and I don’t think that scenario will ever happen again. Milan must play with calm and patience, but with brave hearts as well.”

The former attacking midfielder knows all about preparing for an Athens Champions League Final as he was part of the Milan side which demolished Barcelona 4-0 back in 1994.

“The Rossoneri must play like we did against Barca,” added the former Red Star Belgrade playmaker.

“Milan’s biggest advantage could be their experience. Paolo Maldini, Clarence Seedorf, Fillipo Inzaghi, Andrea Pirlo and Nelson Dida have all played many important games.

“Milan also have the magnificent Kaka, who could be decisive.”

Savicevic, now President of the Football Association of Montenegro, scored a stunning goal in the 1994 Final by beating Andoni Zubizarreta with an outrageous lob.

“We went to Athens with a little fear,” he added. “We had a lot of problems and we were playing against a big team.

“However, we knew we had some advantages as we were disciplined and tactically ready for a tough game.”

Lippi worried by Benitez factor
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Football Italia

Marcello Lippi is confident that Milan can succeed in Athens despite the ability of Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez.

“I don’t want to make any predictions, but there is one certainty and that is that Milan go into the encounter in great condition, both from a physical and mental point of view,” said Lippi.

“They face the Champions League Final in confident mood having played a great game against Manchester United in the last four.”

Although the World Cup winning boss highly rates Carlo Ancelotti on the Rossoneri bench, Lippi maintains that his Spanish counterpart could make the difference in a tight Final.

“Benitez gets the best out of his players, especially at a crucial time in a competition, even when his team might be inferior to their opponents,” added the Viareggino.

“He is practical and precise. Benitez has the rare characteristics of a great tactician.”

Lippi is aware that Milan will have to play a perfect game if they want to lift the Cup on Wednesday evening.

“Liverpool defend very well as a team,” he noted.

“They are also strong on the counter-attack and have Steven Gerrard, who controls a strong midfield, and Peter Crouch in attack, who is an effective forward.”

Kaka eyes Cup glory
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Football Italia

Milan star Kaka can’t wait to take on Liverpool in the Champions League Final. “I want to get my hands on that trophy,” he underlined.

The Rossoneri will play in their 11th European Cup decider on Wednesday, in a repeat of the 2005 Istanbul Final, and hope to win their seventh title at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.

“We are optimistic about the game, even if we will play against a team who is also in a very good moment in the tournament,” said Kaka to uefa.com.

“There will be no space for mistakes and I hope this is finally the time in which I can put my hands on that Cup.”

Kaka is the competition’s top scorer this term with 10 goals, but he has only one target to achieve tomorrow night.

“Winning is more important than finishing as the top scorer, although it would make things even more special in the event that Milan have the last laugh.

“Winning trophies is always my biggest motivation.”

Much of the pre-match talk has revolved around the word ‘revenge’ because of the dramatic Final defeat two years ago, but the former Sao Paulo ace is concentrating on what might happen next.

“It would be impossible for people not to mention Istanbul, but if there is anybody who is not crying over spilled milk then it’s me,” explained the Brazilian.

“As much as there are some bad memories from that game in 2005, I am always living the present, not the past.

“That is why I don’t think our celebrations after the second game of the semi-final against Manchester United had much to do with some kind of revenge wish,” continued the 25-year-old.

“The players were just excited with the great achievement of reaching the Final. It’s a different moment from 2005.

“We have changed some players, what hasn’t changed is our wish to lift the trophy. For me it would be a magic moment and I am really looking forward to the game in Athens.”

Not a final Final for Maldini
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Football Italia

Paolo Maldini insists he will play on for one more season – even if he wins another Champions League title with Milan on Wednesday.

Some whispers in the peninsula have suggested that the 38-year-old could retire in style should he hold aloft the European Cup in Athens, but Maldini has clear ideas about the future.

“I hope to play in yet another Final after this one in Athens, because next season will be my last,” Maldini told uefa.com.

“Milan are football for me, I have played for this club for my entire career, I was born in Milan, and my father had a great career with this team. For me, the word football means Milan.”

Maldini will play in his eighth European Cup Final on Wednesday which will see him equal the record of Real Madrid legend Paco Gento.

“Honestly, I have never really cared about records. I only think about winning as many trophies as possible and Milan have given me the chance to play so many Finals in this competition.”

The former Italian international looks likely to put his knee problems to one side this week in order to face Liverpool, two years after that Istanbul tragedy.

“Facing Liverpool is an opportunity to take revenge, but we have nothing against them,” he continued.

“During my career I have won most of the games I deserved to win, but that night was not like that, we deserved to win and we didn’t.

“They are a very dangerous side, especially with [Steven] Gerrard and [Peter] Crouch, but we don’t have to think about our opponents too much.

“We have to play our own game and accept the result on the pitch.”

Meanwhile, French newspaper L’Equipe dedicated Tuesday’s front page to Maldini by insisting that he deserves to win this year’s Golden Ball.

“Monsieur Maldini lives football like a youngster, with a love that will never end,” an article read.

“Just as his father, in 23 years he has never betrayed his sense of morality, duty and loyalty which have made him one of the icons of Italian football.

“Tomorrow, if the physical trainers are good at their job and the gods listen to us, Milan will offer to Maldini one of the biggest joys in his career, one year before his retirement, a fifth Champions League, a new Intercontinental Final and, why not, the opportunity to dream of the Golden Ball once again.”

France Coach Raymond Domenech also praised Maldini and would like him to win the prestigious award.

“I saw him play against Manchester United and he was impressive," he said. "If it were for me, he would win the Golden Ball.”

Chelsea ready to sell Shevchenko
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Football Italia

Chelsea flop Andriy Shevchenko has been given permission to return to Milan, reports in England are suggesting.

The Ukrainian, who joined the Blues last year in a £30m summer move, has struggled to adapt to his new life in the Premiership and has been constantly linked with a return.

Now the Sun newspaper claims that a deal could be done for the striker, who has scored just four League goals this term.

Shevchenko is scheduled to meet Milan officials in Athens this week, where he will be a guest of President Silvio Berlusconi for the Champions League Final with Liverpool.

The forward, who had recently stated that he wanted to silence his critics in London, has allegedly asked Chelsea patron Roman Abramovich permission to leave.

The striker’s request was understood to be motivated by the club’s decision to confirm boss Jose Mourinho, whose strained relationship with the former Rossoneri ace has never been a secret.

Abramovich is ready to release Sheva with Chelsea expected to ask for a cash-plus-player deal as opposed to Milan’s request for him to join them on loan.

However, the Via Turati outfit may consider offering £12m and including Georgian defender Kakha Kaladze in the operation.

Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon had stated on Sunday that Shevchenko and Michael Ballack would not be sold.

“It’s not going to happen. We brought both these players in for three, four years,” he said. “We didn’t bring them in for a season and we knew fully well what their capabilities are.

“I’m confident they are going to be here as big players with Chelsea next season. They feel they have a lot more to give as it takes time to settle in.”

Berlusconi predicts AC Milan win
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Football Italia

President Silvio Berlusconi is certain that his classy Milan side will win the Champions League Final on Wednesday.

The Rossoneri touched down in Athens yesterday and are looking to avenge their 2005 loss to Liverpool when the Italian giants threw away a 3-0 half-time lead.

“I am sure that Milan will win in Athens because they have more class than their opponents,” said a confident Berlusconi.

“We have already defeated Manchester United during the season and since United beat Liverpool, the football rule says that now Milan must defeat Liverpool themselves.”

The Final two years ago ended in a dramatic penalty shootout, but the former Prime Minister has no fears about such an outcome again.

“Our players have trained specifically for penalties,” he added. “They have even done so against ‘dancing’ goalkeepers.”

Meanwhile, boss Carlo Ancelotti has insisted that he has already decided on his starting XI – even if he is giving little away.

Reports suggest that Filippo Inzaghi will be preferred to Alberto Gilardino upfront, while Paolo Maldini should start and be able to play in his eighth European Cup Final.

The game will kick-off at 20:45 CET and will be refereed by Germany’s Herbert Fandel, who officiated at the UEFA Cup Final between Sevilla and Middlesbrough last May.

He has presided over Milan matches on five occasions in the past, with the Rossoneri victorious in all.

Liverpool’s record under Fandel is much poorer as they have collected just a draw and two losses.

No doubts for Carletto
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Football Italia

Carlo Ancelotti has stated that he already knows who to field in the Champions League Final with Liverpool. “The formation is ready.”

The Rossoneri travel to Athens on Monday afternoon in view of Wednesday’s decider, when it seems that Filippo Inzaghi might be preferred to Alberto Gilardino in the starting line-up.

“I am thinking about what needs to be done, we still have two days to prepare for this match,” said Ancelotti at Malpensa airport.

“I don’t feel any pressure, I have already decided who to field but I haven’t told the players yet,” continued the tactician.

“I have observed our men in the past few days, they are all doing well and we are going to Athens to offer our best performance.

“We are excited, but we need to control our tension until the Final,” he added.

“No one thought we could reach this objective, we face a strong side and we will need to play well, trying to impose our quality,” concluded Ancelotti.

Vice-President Adriano Galliani could not hide his satisfaction after reaching their eighth Final in the last 20 years.

“It is wonderful and this Final is even more important because it arrives at the end of a difficult season,” explained Galliani to the Press.

“No other club in Italy has played as many Finals as us, we reached this impressive result thanks to the club and the players’ commitment.

“We all kept the faith, even when everyone thought that we had no chance at all,” added the former Lega Calcio chief.

In the meantime, Germany’s Herbert Fandel has been chosen to referee Wednesday night's showdown, after officiating in last season's UEFA Cup Final.

Fandel has already officiated over Milan in five previous matches, which all ended with a Rossoneri win.

Kaladze: Shevchenko isn't happy
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Football Italia

Kakha Kaladze claims that former Milan teammate Andriy Shevchenko is not happy at Chelsea and could leave the club.

The Ukrainian joined the Blues last summer in a £30m move, but was recently paired with a sensational return to the San Siro after an unhappy season in the Premiership.

“Andriy and I are still friends, we speak a lot and he has told me that he is not happy with what has happened this year,” Kaladze told The Sun.

“To do well in a new club you need help from your teammates and I don’t think the Chelsea team helped Shevchenko at all,” added the Rossoneri defender.

“I am not sure of what will happen in the summer, but I don’t think he wants to stay after a season like the one which just ended and after the way Coach Jose Mourinho behaved towards him,” concluded the Georgian.

The Portuguese tactician did not play Shevchenko in his natural role, a fact that the 2004 Golden Ball winner believes was one of the reasons for him failing to deliver the goals.

The former Milan player recently revealed that he might be interested in a move to the United States before hanging up his boots, following David Beckham’s example.

However, Blues chief executive Peter Kenyon stated that Shevchenko will not leave Chelsea next season, apparently ending the Rossoneri’s dream of seeing him return.

Kaka: We are calm
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Football Italia

Milan star Kaka believes the Rossoneri are in a perfect state of mind ahead of the Champions League Final with Liverpool.

The San Siro outfit will face the Reds at the Olympic Stadium in Athens two years after the dramatic night in Istanbul, in the eleventh decider for six-time European Champions Milan.

“Training went very well yesterday, we discussed some of the aspects which will be important in Wednesday’s match,” Kaka told Milan Channel.

“I see that the side is in good shape, we are calm and relaxed. We are aware of our own strength and of what we can do,” added the attacking midfielder.

“I believe Peter Crouch is one of their most dangerous players. He is very strong on high balls and is an opportunist when he is in the area.

“We will have to be very careful if he plays. If somebody else plays instead there will be other things to worry about.”

The Brazilian insists that Milan’s desire to win the Final has slowly grown and believes that Coach Carlo Ancelotti’s role in the team’s impressive season in Europe has been vital.

“We slowly managed to gain confidence that we would reach another Final and the desire to win it has grown,” explained Kaka.

“Now we are here and we have a chance of winning, this is wonderful. Ancelotti is a special person, he knows how to manage the group, manage people, and this is very important in football.

“Milan have many stars in the squad, many great players and they need a Coach as good as him,” concluded the 25-year-old.

The Rossoneri will be hoping that Greece will continue its positive tradition, as that is where they won the 1994 Champions League Final against Barcelona with a stunning 4-0 win.

Berlusconi picks supersub Pippo
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Football Italia

Milan President Silvio Berlusconi has suggested starting the Champions League Final with Alberto Gilardino, bringing on Pippo Inzaghi for the late push.

“By Wednesday we will all be in top form. We cannot let the trophy slip through our fingers again,” he told ‘Telelombardia.’

Coach Carlo Ancelotti has said he is yet to decide which of his two strikers will start in Athens, so Berlusconi made his suggestion.

“If it were up to me, I would start with Gilardino as centre-forward and then bring on Inzaghi when the Liverpool defence is a little more tired.”

It is practically certain that the rest of the formation is decided with Kaka and Clarence Seedorf supporting the forward.

The only other doubt is between Paolo Maldini and Kakha Kaladze at centre-back, which depends on the captain’s fitness levels.

Yesterday Milan’s reserves lost 3-2 to Udinese, but the day was above all a celebration for Alessandro ‘Billy’ Costacurta, who is retiring at the age of 41 to become Ancelotti’s assistant manager alongside Mauro Tassotti.

“The President’s role is to motivate the team and give the mission statement to the Coach and players,” said Berlusconi.

“I don’t think our results in my 21 years here have been all that bad… Ancelotti, Tassotti and Costacurta are great friends and this atmosphere will certainly help the work done at Milanello.”

If one old face is moving on, then another could return, as the patron and former Italian Prime Minister has again invited Andriy Shevchenko to end his Chelsea spell.

“The doors are not just open for Sheva, they are spread out wide for him. I would not change Milan with any other squad, especially after the arrival of Ronaldo and the focus on youngsters in the future to lower the average age of the team.”

Pele puts his money on AC Milan
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Football Italia

The countdown to the Champions League Final continues and legend Pele has tipped Milan to take the trophy in Athens thanks to Kaka and Clarence Seedorf.

“It is logical that they are the favourites, considering how they improved against Bayern Munich and Manchester United. This is the great opportunity to take revenge for Istanbul,” he told the ‘Gazzetta dello Sport.’

Although Liverpool were also the underdogs in 2005, they came back from 3-0 down to win on penalties.

“This will be a very different game to the two legs against Manchester United. Liverpool do not play that kind of spectacular, open and attacking football. They are physically strong, clam up and go on the counter pushed by Steven Gerrard. A cool head will be essential.”

Pele believes the key to the encounter on May 23 will be in the middle of the park.

“I can imagine a great battle between Javier Mascherano and Gennaro Gattuso. Milan are technically superior and have two players who can make the difference – Kaka and Seedorf.

“The Dutchman gives a quiet balance, hides the ball from opponents and provides assists. Together those two equal a Champions League winning combination.”

Whatever the result, it looks as if Kaka will be crowned top scorer for this competition, having already netted 10 goals.

“He is the best player in the world along with Ronaldinho,” added the Brazilian. “I hope he can bring the Champions League to Milan. He above all reminds me of Johann Cruyff with that progression, pace, eye for goal and when he starts from midfield he’s unique.

“Kaka has improved so much – more than I thought possible – even if you could tell from a young age he would go far. When he is on form, Milan are devastating.”

The semi-final with Manchester United was painted by the media as a battle between Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo for the Ballon d’Or, won convincingly by the Serie A star.

“Ronaldo is on the road to being among the best, but there’s a long way to go yet. He reminds me of Julinho, who played for Palmeiras and Fiorentina. I put him in the second tier along with Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney.”

Costacurta: Grazie Milan!
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Football Italia

Alessandro 'Billy' Costacurta has thanked the club and fans for his emotional farewell game at San Siro.

“It’s a wonderful day and I am very grateful to everyone for this celebration. I have to thank the club, my teammates and my family,” said the 41-year-old defender.

His career with the Rossoneri lasted 27 years right from the youth system and will continue, as he is to become an assistant manager to Carlo Ancelotti along with current right-hand man Mauro Tassotti.

“I’ve always thought you have to dedicate yourself fully to a job and so in my new work I won’t have time to think about my playing days,” he added.

“About two weeks ago I was told that Carlo wanted me to stay with him in the Coaching staff. It was very pleasing and I am happy to take on this new role.

“There were many different options open to me after retirement, but my priority was to remain at Milan.”

Costacurta scored a goal in his final match, converting a penalty in the 3-2 home defeat to Udinese, as Milan fielded a reserve team ahead of the Champions League Final with Liverpool.

After the final whistle all the players – including those in the stands – came down on to the field wearing Costacurta’s Number 5 jersey.

They also gave the veteran ‘The Bumps’ in the centre circle and he did a lap of honour saluting the fans.

The legend made his Serie A debut for the side in a 1-0 win at Verona on October 25, 1987 and won a total of 23 trophies with the club.

He has notched up seven Scudetti, four European Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, four European Super Cups, five Italian Super Cups and the Coppa Italia.

Eriksson: AC Milan are favourites
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Football Italia

Sven Goran Eriksson has experience of both Italian and English football, but he is backing Milan to lift the Champions League.

“I did not expect to see a Milan-Liverpool Final – nobody did. Everyone thought we’d see Manchester United-Chelsea,” he told ‘Il Giornale.’

“The Rossoneri played a great game at Old Trafford and a perfect performance at San Siro. They fully deserved the Final.

“Chelsea understood once again the difficulties in taking on Liverpool at Anfield, as they have a truly unique and crucial set of fans.”

This is a replay of the 2005 Final in which Milan were leading 3-0 before losing on penalties after the 3-3 score.

“I am very pleased for Milan and those ‘old’ lads who I trained in the past – Clarence Seedorf, Giuseppe Favalli, Alessandro Nesta and Carlo Ancelotti,” said the former Lazio and Sampdoria Coach.

“Ancelotti was in my Roma side in 1985. He still has the same sense of fair play, desire to work hard and ability to understand football.”

The challenge with Rafael Benitez is set to be another intriguing tactical duel in Athens on May 23.

“Benitez brought organisation to a team that is certainly technically inferior to Chelsea and Manchester United. He has been criticised for packing the side with Spaniards, but with two Champions League Finals in three years, who can really complain?

“Milan are the snapshot of their Coach’s mentality,” continued ex-England boss Eriksson. “I like the team because they always want to play football, not defend or use catenaccio tactics. In terms of technique they are stronger than Liverpool.

“However, the English side have more grit. Their men have this special DNA that shows through their club history – they never give in.”

Balancing out the two elements, Eriksson places his bet on the winning team. “It will be Milan’s technique against the aggression of Liverpool – with Milan as the favourites.”

There is one man who can change the game for the English side, though, as the Coach hails their captain Steven Gerrard.

“Gerrard is a symbol of England. He is among the strongest in the world, has great vision, can score, defend and put in tough tackles like Gennaro Gattuso. He can take on any midfield position and would be the best right-back in the world, but he is wasted in that role.”

Rui Costa cheering on AC Milan
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Football Italia

Manuel Rui Costa has urged his former Milan teammates to beat Liverpool in the Champions League Final. “Do it for me too!”

The Portuguese midfielder was on the field when the Rossoneri lost on penalties after a 3-3 draw in 2005 in Istanbul and even though he has moved on, he has not forgotten that bond.

“Who, like me, has had the fortune to live in the Milan family does not forget and never stops feeling a part of it,” he told the official club website.

“I understood that when I returned to Benfica, a very sentimental choice that took me back to my roots and was a dream I had since I was a child and first left Lisbon.

“Milan enters your veins and never goes away, so I want to tell everyone at the club that my heart will be with all of you in Athens.”

Just two years after that fateful day when a 3-0 lead was frittered away in the space of six minutes, the Diavolo have the opportunity to take revenge by facing Liverpool again on May 23.

“I am proud of what you have been able to achieve in this incredibly difficult season and I know you’ll close it with the class and the courage that only Milan can express in these ‘special moments!” continued Rui Costa.

“So beat Liverpool, and it will be a small revenge for me as well. Good luck!”

AC Milan 2:3 Udinese - match report
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Football Italia

Scorers: Asamoah 10 (U), Gourcuff 36 (M), Di Natale 53 (U), Costacurta pen 57 (M), Barreto 61 (U)

Billy Costacurta scored on his swansong, but Milan's reserves lost 3-2 to Udinese with their minds on Athens. There was a nice gesture at the final whistle, as all the players - including those in the stands - went on to the pitch wearing Costacurta's Number 5 jersey.

These two sides had nothing left to play for in Serie A, so the Rossoneri fielded a reserve line-up ahead of next Wednesday's Champions League Final against Liverpool. It was a special event for Alessandro 'Billy' Costacurta, who played his final match before hanging up his boots at the age of 40 for a future as Milan's assistant manager. Udinese had to do without Vincenzo Iaquinta, Damiano Zenoni, Dias Felipe, Christian Obodo and the suspended Tomas Zapotocny.

Ricardo Oliveira was given a rare start and showed why, as in the opening eight minutes he ran on to Costacurta's pass only to slip at the crucial moment clear on goal.

Udinese took control, as Antonio Di Natale's screamer thumped the upright and Marco Storari did well to parry Marco Motta's follow-up.

Moments later it was 1-0 for the visitors. From the resulting corner kick, Gyan Asamoah got ahead of Giuseppe Favalli to nod in.

The Rossoneri fought back, bringing a fantastic save out of Morgan De Sanctis with Oliveira's fierce drive from distance. The move continued but neither Yoann Gourcuff nor Marco Borriello could finalise it.

Former Messina goalkeeper Storari parried a D'Agostino free kick at the other end.

Milan got their equaliser in chaotic circumstances. Ricardo Oliveira set up Borriello from the byline and although the Italian was closed down by defensive bodies, the ball rolled across for Gourcuff's tap-in. It was the French midfield talent's first Serie A goal.

Cristian Zapata had a great chance to restore Udinese's lead, combining with Paulo Barreto to fire just across the face of goal, D'Agostino drilled wide and Storari beat away a Di Natale free kick that split the wall.

After the break Sulley Ali Muntari did well to hook the ball back from the byline, but Asamoah couldn't get a touch with the goal gaping from six yards.

It was a warning and Udinese scored moments later. Muntari found too much space in midfield as he surged forward. Although Storari beat away the shot, he could do nothing on Di Natale's follow-up.

Oliveira's left-foot effort swung wide of the near post, but the referee pointed to the spot when Gourcuff made a meal of Dossena's push as he went to head a Serginho cross. Costacurta was urged to take the kick on his swansong and sent De Sanctis the wrong way. It was the last move of his playing career, as he received a standing ovation as he left the field.

Oliveira again slipped when it might have been earlier to score and once again Milan were made to pay for the Brazilian's problems in front of goal. Barreto hooked down a long ball over the defence and flicked it past Storari from a tight angle.

Siqueira fired over the bar at the end of a fast counter-attack and hit the back of the net later on, but the goal was disallowed for a push.

Oliveira's header swung wide of the near post and De Sanctis palmed away a Gourcuff left-foot finish, but Milan did not seem particularly intent on getting back into it. Perhaps superstition had something to do with it - the last game before the Istanbul Final was a 3-3 draw at San Siro with Palermo.

Milan: Storari; Bonera, Simic, Favalli (Darmian 67), Grimi (Guerci 76); Brocchi, Costacurta (Di Gennaro 59), Gourcuff, Serginho; Borriello, Oliveira

Udinese: De Sanctis; Zapata, Coda, Natali, Dossena; Motta (Siqueira 51), D'Agostino, Muntari; Asamoah; Barreto (Sivok 67), Di Natale (De Martino 80)

Ref: Gervasoni

Inzaghi - Gilardino duel
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Football Italia

Pippo Inzaghi and Alberto Gilardino are duelling to start against Liverpool in Athens, but both hope to be decisive for a Milan triumph.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti admitted in yesterday’s Press conference that he is still not sure which of the two strikers will be picked for the Champions League Final on May 23, supported by Kaka and Clarence Seedorf.

“It is true that I have played many European games without scoring as much as I would have liked,” Gilardino told UEFA.com.

So far the former Parma man has netted just twice in eight appearances this season and failed to score in the entirety of last year’s Champions League.

“However, I’ve played an important role in the side in other ways and believe I will be a decisive factor in the Final.”

With Ronaldo cup-tied and Ricardo Oliveira failing to settle, these two Italians have been the only options in attack and often traded places.

“If the Coach wants us to pass the baton, it’s not a problem. There is healthy competition between Pippo and myself.

“In a side like Milan there is always competition for every role, but we are all ready to give our contribution. That is one of our main strengths and I hope it will be again in Athens.”

The current favourite considering form, experience and his record in the competition is Inzaghi, who in his time has scored 36 goals in 65 Champions League appearances, without considering the preliminary rounds.

“Of course I’d like to play from the start because I feel in great shape,” said the veteran hitman.

“Ancelotti is the one who picks the team and the only thing that counts at the end of the day is that Milan lift the trophy, regardless of who plays upfront.”

Neither of them were on the field in Istanbul when Liverpool beat the Rossoneri on penalties in 2005, as Gilardino was still playing for Parma and Inzaghi was injured.

“I wasn’t well and had to watch that Final from the stands. It was a Cup we could already feel in our grasp and Liverpool snatched it away. It will not happen again.”

Malesani admires AC Milan reserves
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Football Italia

Milan may be fielding a reserve team this evening, but Udinese boss Alberto Malesani warns that doesn’t mean it will be an easy task.

With this fixture brought forward so that the Rossoneri can better prepare for next Wednesday’s Champions League Final against Liverpool, their minds will be elsewhere.

“We must understand that there is no difference between their first choice XI and the reserves. This will give space to those who don’t often get to play and they will want to make their mark, but we will also push to the bitter end.”

Malesani is planning some changes of his own, experimenting with a trident attack at San Siro in the absence of Vincenzo Iaquinta and Giampiero Pinzi.

“We will be making some small tactical adjustments. I will probably begin with three strikers, but Paulo Barreto helping out in midfield. He has done well in that position before. Antonio Di Natale and Barreto can take it in turns to push up and support Gyan Asamoah.”

If Milan have already qualified for the Champions League, then Udinese have nothing left to play for either – they are safe from relegation and out of the UEFA Cup race.

“We have conceded too many goals,” sighed Malesani. “The rest is understandable, but that factor really made the difference. In any case, I would only call two games total wipeouts – against Catania and Fiorentina. We made big mistakes then when we should have taken that step up in quality.”

There are still some slender European dreams for the Friulani, though. “The Intertoto Cup is a possibility. There is time to prepare and take on this challenge. After all, it’s really no different from many summer friendlies.”

Sulley Ali Muntari and Tomas Sivok are expected to start this evening despite minor injury setbacks.

Kick-off for Milan-Udinese is 18.00 local time, 17.00 in the UK.

Udinese squad: Casazza, De Sanctis; Coda, Dossena, Lukovic, Motta, Natali, Sissoko, Zapata; D’Agostino, De Martino, Gotti, Muntari, Siqueira, Sivok; Asamoah, Barreto, Di Natale, Hodza

Ancelotti's Athens dilemma
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Football Italia

Milan Coach Carlo Ancelotti does not know whether Alberto Gilardino or Pippo Inzaghi will play the Champions League Final against Liverpool.

The Rossoneri travel to Athens next week for the decider with Liverpool and the tactician has yet to make the final decisions on his team selection.

“I will see their condition, our game plan doesn’t really change with one or the other,” said Ancelotti to the Press on Friday.

“It’s the most difficult choice to make. They have both done great things to deserve the Final. Inzaghi was very important in the preliminary round and quarter-final while Gilardino was decisive in the semi-final.

“There’s more pressure in the Champions League and Gilardino doesn’t have the experience yet to control that pressure. Having said that, I cannot rule out a shared role.

“In any case, I hope the players understand my final choice. I haven’t decided yet, I will do that before Wednesday evening.”

In the meantime, Milan prepare their Serie A match with Udinese, which will be Alessandro Costacurta’s swansong.

“Costacurta will play tomorrow, the day is dedicated to him, he deserves it,” said Ancelotti, his former teammate.

“He is a great champion and a great professional. He is closing his playing career but his experience will be useful for all of us, as he becomes a member of the technical staff.

“I have to thank him and Paolo Maldini for representing the consistency of the Milan philosophy, which is key to the club’s results.”

Costacurta will wear a special jersey initialled with the letter M for Milan and the shirt will go up for auction, with all proceeds going to charity.

Ancelotti also commented on Liverpool, after the controversy following his suggestion that Liverpool were the poorest of the four semi-finalists.

“I think Liverpool are the most difficult side to play against. When it comes to quality Manchester United and Chelsea are better. If the tabloid misinterpreted these words I can only confirm that the English are bottom of the media table,” laughed the Coach.

Nesta pens AC Milan deal
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Football Italia

Alessandro Nesta has extended his contract with Champions League chasing Milan until 2011.

The defender’s previous agreement with the San Siro outfit was due to expire in 2008 and he had been linked with a sensational return to Lazio.

However, as expected, Nesta has ended the speculation about his future by making a fresh Rossoneri commitment.

“Milan confirm that they have extended the contract which ties the footballer Alessandro Nesta to the Rossoneri club until June 30, 2011,” read a statement on the side’s website.

Nesta, who is back at his best following shoulder surgery in November, is in his fifth season with Milan after growing up in the Lazio youth system.

The former Biancocelesti captain has won a Scudetto, a Champions League, a European Super Cup and a Coppa Italia since his arrival and is expected to be a protagonist in the European Cup Final against Liverpool next week.

The 31-year-old, who was named by Pele as one of the top 125 greatest living footballers, has appeared over 70 times for the Italian national team and was part of the 2006 World Cup squad.

Riise banking on Benitez
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Football Italia

John Arne Riise expects Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez to outwit Milan’s Carlo Ancelotti in the Champions League Final.

“Our manager is a tactical genius and he knows how to get his players ready,” the full-back told the club’s website.

“When he picks his team and he knows who he wants to play, he will talk to every player to say what he expects from them.”

Benitez was in charge of the Liverpool side who stunned the Rossoneri in the 2005 Final and Riise insists his half-time team talk in Turkey underlines his ability.

“You would have expected him to shout at us after the first half when we were losing 3-0,” continued the 26-year-old.

“However, he was very calm and explained what we were going to do. He wanted us to lift our heads.

“He said that if we got a goal anything could happen, that is what we did and in the end, everything turned out okay.”

The former Monaco defender is also confident that his side have the characteristics to cause Milan problems, despite Ancelotti’s jibe that Liverpool were the poorest of the four semi-finalists.

“I have heard that Milan think they are the more tactical and we are the more physical side, but we can play football too,” added the 2001 signing.

“We know Milan don’t like playing against teams like us. They struggled when they faced Bayern Munich earlier in the competition, even though they got through.

“But we don’t really care what people say, we deserve to be in the Final,” added the Norwegian international.

“When they played against United they had lots of space, but the way we play is different and it will be hard for their full-backs and wingers to get through.

“We will play our own style of football that has been successful for us. We know that some teams hate to play against us because we play a physical compact type of game.”

Berlusconi wants Shevchenko back
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Football Italia

Milan President Silvio Berlusconi insists that he would be delighted to welcome back Andriy Shevchenko to the San Siro.

The Ukrainian quit the Rossoneri last summer when he joined Chelsea in a £30m deal, but the 30-year-old has had a difficult first season in the Premiership.

Although the striker recently committed his future to the Stamford Bridge outfit, rumours continue to claim that Sheva could be on the verge of a sensational Italian return.

“I am a Sheva fan,” the former Italian Prime Minister noted. “I would love him to come back and it would be a great signing for us.”

Milan had targeted Ronaldinho, but Berlusconi’s dreams of seeing the Brazilian with the Rossoneri jersey next season were shattered on Thursday after the player rubbished claims that he was leaving Barcelona.

Shevchenko’s return is therefore a possibility and Vice-President Adriano Galliani recently admitted that the club was willing to keep free a non-EU spot in their squad, while they waited to understand the Ukrainian’s future decisions.

Berlusconi was also inevitably questioned about next week’s Champions League Final with Liverpool in Athens.

“We must prove that we are stronger than bad luck, envy and injustice. If we will be able to do this, the Cup will be ours,” concluded the Via Turati chief.

Berlusconi has still not properly digested the outcome of the 2005 Final when Liverpool came from a 3-0 deficit to win the trophy on penalties.

Kaka eyes place in history
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Football Italia

Milan star Kaka says he wants to win the Champions League and the Golden Ball. “I want a place in the club’s history.”

The Brazilian is ready for the big match at the Athens Olympic Stadium and hopes to repay the faith shown in him by his teammates, who consider him the key to their success.

“If I win the Champions League I can become one of the leading candidates for the Golden Ball and I can write my name in Milan’s history,” said Kaka on Thursday.

“I am glad to know that my teammates appreciate me, the fact that they consider me decisive is a victory, it means that I am held in high esteem,” added the 25-year-old.

“In any case, I believe that a player alone cannot win, the entire team is important.”

The Rossonero also believes that they must be wary of Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard, who he thinks will be one of the most dangerous players on the pitch.

“He is a leader, he runs, defends and is a driving force for his side,” explained Kaka.

“However, just as for Milan, the entire Liverpool team’s performance will be important, one player will not be enough,” concluded the attacking midfielder.

Ronaldinho sticking with Barcelona
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Football Italia

Ronaldinho has announced that he will not leave Barcelona in the summer, dismissing the rumours linking him with a move to Milan.

The Brazilian is contracted to the Blaugrana until 2010, but the last few months have seen the Rossoneri repeatedly state that they were “in pole position should he leave.”

Furthermore, all negotiations to extend his deal with the Nou Camp outfit have so far failed, fuelling speculation that the player might be set for Serie A.

“There is no chance that I will leave Barcelona,” Ronaldinho told the Press on Thursday.

“I have a contract here and I am only focused on my club,” added the former Golden Ball winner, whose side leads La Liga alongside Real Madrid with four matches to go.

“I want to do my best here next year and am trying to prepare for next season as well as I can,” explained ‘Dinho, who has withdrawn from Brazil’s Copa America squad.

The Brazilian international was recently booed by part of the Barca supporters, who do not appreciate the constant transfer rumours, blaming his brother and agent Roberto Assis’ frequent trips to Milan.

“My brother is in Italy often because he represents many other players apart from me. He doesn’t go to Milan to speak about my position,” concluded Ronaldinho.

The player’s statement could open the door for Andriy Shevchenko’s return to the San Siro, after Adriano Galliani declared last week that the Rossoneri were willing to hold a non-EU spot for the Ukrainian.

Ambrosini ready for action
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Milan midfielder Massimo Ambrosini is looking forward to the Champions League Final with Liverpool after missing out in 2005.

The Rossoneri will face the Reds in Athens on May 23 in a repeat of the incredible match two year’s ago, when the Premiership side overturned a 3-0 half-time deficit to win on penalties.

Ambrosini was ruled out of that tie after he picked up a thigh injury in a Serie A match and can’t wait to grab his second chance with both hands.

“Life is strange because it doesn’t always give you a second opportunity,” the Rossonero told uefa.com.

“I am delighted about this and we must all be ready to face Liverpool, who took the Cup away from us two years ago,” added the 29-year-old, who recently extended his deal with the San Siro outfit until 2010.

“Football is incredible sometimes and it showed just how true that is in that match.

“Even if we had had 10 defenders on the pitch during those 10 minutes of madness it wouldn't have made any difference.”

Ambrosini believes Liverpool are even stronger than the last time they met and mainly fears Steven Gerrard, although he looks forward to his duel with the English international.

“In my opinion he is unquestionably the best right now,” explained the midfielder, who has seemed rejuvenated for Milan this season.

“It is great for me to be able to play against him and to do so in the Final of a Champions League makes it even more exciting,” concluded the Rossonero.

Milan, who have been crowned European champions on six occasions, won their last Champions League Final in 2003, when they defeated Juventus 3-2 on penalties at Old Trafford.

Zambrotta plans AC Milan move?
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Barcelona full-back Gianluca Zambrotta has been paired with a move to Milan once again after being sighted in the city over the past few days.

The former Juventus man had already been linked with the San Siro outfit after declaring that he had always been a Rossoneri fan, but then denied that he intended to join them in the summer.

However, the world champion was seen in Milan this week, increasing the rumours that a move at the end of the season might be on the cards.

Zambrotta was one of the first Juventus players to leave the outfit after the club’s demotion, but his first season in La Liga has been far from enjoyable after failing to settle in Catalonia.

The versatile defender was close to joining Milan after the World Cup, as confirmed by Adriano Galliani recently, but their involvement in Calciopoli saw the deal collapse.

The World Cup winner, who is highly considered by the Rossoneri, recently underlined that he intended to honour his Barcelona contract until it expires in 2010.

However, Milan could make a move in the summer, when they are expected to strengthen their ageing defensive department.

Galliani: We don't need Buffon
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Vice-President Adriano Galliani insists that Milan already have a goalkeeper and are not interested in signing Gianluigi Buffon.

The world champion seems close to leaving Juventus and the latest rumours suggesting that he was buying a villa on Lake Como fuelled speculation the player might join one of the San Siro outfits this summer.

“Buffon? No, we already have Nelson Dida and he will stay between Milan’s posts,” Galliani told Sky Italia, confirming the club’s faith in the Brazilian.

Galliani also stated that he hopes Paolo Maldini will keep on playing next year, after the 38-year-old captain said that he would like to continue for one more season, knee injury permitting.

“He is an element who represents continuity for us and that means strength. We are counting on the fact that he can play for another year,” explained the former Lega Calcio chief.

The Rossonero then commented on the latest statements coming from Liverpool Coach Rafa Benitez, who declared that his men are mentally stronger than Milan.

“I do not know how he can say that. In any case, I prefer not to make any forecasts on this Final,” concluded Galliani.

Ancelotti can't wait to meet Liverpool
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Carlo Ancelotti believes Milan are in a completely different state of mind to how they approached the 2005 Champions League Final with Liverpool.

“The basic structure of the team is the same, but the big difference is that in 2005 we arrived at the Final squeezed dry by a brutal season, while now the side is in great physical shape,” said the Coach.

“Above all the positive aspect of our approach to this Final is in our psychological focus. The team grew so much in confidence and belief after the quarter-final with Bayern Munich and we are convinced we can repeat the semi-final performance against Manchester United.”

The Rossoneri were famously leading 3-0 in Istanbul before conceding three goals in six minutes and losing the trophy on penalties, but have the opportunity for an historic rematch.

“We are not thinking about penalties now, but if we do end up there again, we’ll try to take them better than we did in Istanbul…”

Above all, it is a Final that comes after going through the preliminary round due to Calciopoli.

“In terms of mentality let us say that in 2005 reaching the Final was a normal objective, but the way this season has gone it is extraordinary. I am proud that despite the difficulties Milan have once again been able to challenge for the trophy,” he told the official club website.

“This has been a story with a happy ending. When everything seemed to be going wrong, all of a sudden there was respite. Aside from how the Final goes, this team has done something very important for modern football, where there is always the search for scapegoats and alibis. We all focused on fixing our own problems together.”

The Rossoneri have more than proved their pedigree in the Champions League, as this is their third Final in five years.

“In games like these, experience is important to deal with the run-up. The fact we have so many players accustomed to that atmosphere and tension means we get there with the right attitude.

“Tradition counts for a great deal and the philosophy of this club has always been that the Champions League is the main objective.”

Rafa Benitez is in his second European Cup Final in three seasons, so this will be an intriguing battle of two very different tactical approaches.

“He is a great Coach who evidently focuses on organisation and discipline. I think he is extremely precise in his work,” said Ancelotti.

“Milan are a very Italian side in its way of preparing for matches, concentration, aggression and then has the input of foreign talent like Kaka and Clarence Seedorf. Liverpool don’t seem to have the DNA of an English club, they are far more Latino in their play and that comes from the mentality of their Coach.

“I am really enjoying this Press Conference and can’t wait for Tuesday’s UEFA chat,” grinned the experienced boss.

“I remember in Istanbul thinking ‘It’s great being here, I wonder if I’ll get here again?’ I am once more and am happy about that. I didn’t expect to meet Benitez again, but he’s here too!”

Gattuso slams Liverpool liars
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Gennaro Gattuso responded to Steven Gerrard’s description of him as “a kitten” and lambasted Liverpool for their “lies” and “irritating” style of play.

The midfielder was part of the side that was leading Liverpool 3-0 in 2005 before capitulating on penalties and will face the Reds again in Athens on May 23.

“I hope that those memories will give us the right boost to beat them. It’s not easy to forget that night, but it can give us all something extra to win it,” he said.

“The Final is an important match and my mind keeps drifting towards it. Do you want to know if I sleep? I sleep, but I also feel the tension. I cannot wait for the kick-off to arrive.”

One of the big stories after that comeback from 3-0 down was suggestions that the Rossoneri had been heard celebrating at half-time.

“It’s a shame that such lies were spread about us,” replied Gattuso. “That is the thing that hurt more than anything. A club and a squad like Milan does not do these things. Compliments to Liverpool for winning the trophy, which at half-time was indeed in our Via Turati headquarters, but it’s a real pity they lied about what happened in the break.

“Also, I don’t know how many other sides in the world would have come out from that night and returned to the semi-final and Final in successive seasons. We have to give credit to the club environment for allowing the players to recover and continue to work without excessive pressure.”

Ahead of their midfield duel on the pitch, Gattuso and Gerrard have been battling it out in the newspapers with the Liverpool man calling his rival “as scary as a kitten.”

“I’m certainly as furry as a kitten,” smiled the bearded Italian. “I don’t want to answer this sort of thing, as I am sure that the media blew those comments out of proportion. If Gerrard really does think that, then I don’t know what to do about it.

“I believe he is a great player who always gives 100 per cent. I can also say I don’t feel like a kitten, but rather a man who never gives in.

“Liverpool are a side that make you play badly and pack men behind the ball, so we have to do well not to get too irritated. However it ends, praise has to be given to both Milan and Liverpool for being back in the Final after two years. Back in January Rafa Benitez predicted this, but we never thought we’d be here so soon.”

Milan can be particularly proud to have reached their third Final in five years, as they were originally excluded from the Champions League due to Calciopoli and went through via the preliminary round. Inter midfielder Patrick Vieira accused the club, saying he could not understand why they were in the competition at all.

“After everything we proved in the World Cup about how good Italian football is, what more do they want, for us to fly to the Moon?

“Unfortunately scandals emerge more or less everywhere, as with so much money in the sport there is bound to be someone who wants to be sneaky. Italian football has done some great things on the field in recent years and so enough of doing us down.”

‘Rino’ was a key figure in Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph and disagrees with Francesco Totti, who said before Roma’s Champions League quarter-final with Manchester United that for him this was more important than that night in Berlin.

“I don’t want to cause controversy with Francesco and perhaps he said that because his rapport with Roma is special, being their first quarter-final in a long time… but the Nazionale is another matter entirely.

“You cannot compare it to the Champions League. When I wear the Azzurri shirt and represent my country, it is an indescribable joy.”

Maldini set to play on
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Paolo Maldini has admitted that he won’t retire at the end of the season – even if he has denied claims that he’s already signed a Milan extension.

The captain, in his 23rd season with the San Siro outfit, was considering quitting because of his knee problems but seems to believe that he has one more campaign left in him.

“I still haven’t put pen to paper, but I have spoken to [Vice-President Adriano] Galliani and I have decided to go on,” the 38-year-old noted.

“At the base of my decision is the fact that I am feeling okay and confident that my left knee problem will be resolved by surgery.

“I will then start working on what will be my last season next time around.”

Maldini, Italy’s most capped player thanks to his 126 appearances, made the statement after Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti suggested that he had already signed a new deal.

“The only player who will quit football after Athens is Alessandro Costacurta,” said Ancelotti this afternoon.

“Paolo will definitely stay with us next year, seeing as he renewed his contract and will play for another season.”

Despite today’s developments, there are some in the peninsula who believe he may still hang up his boots in June if the Rossoneri were to win the Athens Final with Liverpool on May 23.

The former left-back, son of 1963 European Cup winning captain Cesare Maldini, hopes to be fit for next week’s Champions League showdown.

Maldini has stated that he will only play in his eighth European Cup Final with the club if he is at 100 per cent.

Meanwhile, Ancelotti has insisted that the Rossoneri’s winning habit will continue for some years to come.

“Milan’s cycle will not end in Athens,” he said. “It will continue for as long as Silvio Berlusconi remains at the helm of the club.”

Costacurta embraces new career
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Alessandro Costacurta will probably play his last game for Milan this weekend, but insists he’s not sad at hanging up his boots.

The veteran will start against Udinese at San Siro in a second string side, as the team prepares for the Champions League Final with Liverpool on May 23.

“This will be my final match, but right now I do not feel sad. Perhaps it is because next season I will still be here, or maybe the time to stop has come and I have experienced so much in my time,” said the defender.

‘Billy’ has already announced the next stage of his career in football – taking the assistant manager role to Carlo Ancelotti, his former teammate in Il Grande Milan of the late 1980s.

“I don’t really know the reason why, but I do not feel disappointed to be ending my playing days. In fact, I am enthusiastic to think I’ll be working with Ancelotti and these lads.”

He has already attended a party in his honour that the club staged on Thursday and revealed it was a memorable moment.

“It was a wonderful celebration and above all a great surprise,” he told Milan Channel. “Absolutely everyone was there, all the people I shared so much with over the years.

“I am frankly amazed I didn’t burst into tears. My son was there and as I was welling up I saw him and had to get myself together.”

Costacurta was born on April 24, 1966 and has spent a lifetime in the Rossoneri jersey, save for a season-long spell with Serie C1 club Monza in 1986-87.

He made his Serie A debut in a 1-0 victory away to Verona on October 10, 1987 and this is set to be his 458th top flight appearance, during which he scored just two goals.

During the Milan career Costacurta won seven Scudetto titles, four European Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, four European Super Cups, a Coppa Italia and five Italian Super Cups.

The man from Orago (Varese) was also an Italian international, putting together 59 caps and two goals after his debut in the 1-1 draw with Norway on November 13, 1991.

Maldini starts Final countdown
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Milan captain Paolo Maldini will only feature in the Champions League Final against Liverpool on May 23 if he is 100 per cent fit.

The defender is keen to appear in his 29th professional Final, but he is a doubt for the game because of a persistent knee problem.

“After the game against Catania on Sunday my knee swelled up, but that was expected,” said Maldini to Milan Channel.

“I have to follow a personalised training programme this week, but I know I can be fit for the game against Liverpool,” continued the 38-year-old.

“However, I will only play if I am 100 per cent fit. Otherwise I will have no problems in giving my place to somebody else.”

Maldini has appeared in four Finals crowning Milan as European champions in 1989, 1990, 1994 and 2003 and is looking forward to writing yet another page in the club’s history.

“I always believed we could reach the Final this season and so did the Coach,” explained the Rossonero who is in his 23rd season at the San Siro.

“Now we have the chance to write history. The Istanbul defeat in 2005 still hurts, but I am sure Liverpool know they will never win a match like that again,” he added.

“Compared to our last two Finals in Manchester and Istanbul we are in much better shape this time around.

“This is the joy and honour of playing for Milan, to always be able to compete at the highest level and have the possibility of winning important trophies.

“My personal balance says that I have won four Finals and lost three, there is no way I want to even things out!”

Seedorf commits to AC Milan
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Milan’s Clarence Seedorf wants to end his career at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. “I don’t think I will move again,” he underlined.

The midfielder joined the club in 2002 from city rivals Inter and he insists the outfit still offers him the motivation to go on – despite winning a Scudetto, Champions League and Italian Cup there.

“A player like me finds new stimuli every year and this is very exciting,” stated the Dutchman on Tuesday.

“My contract is still fairly long and I would not like to move at the age of 34 or 35,” added the 31-year-old Dutchman, who is tied to Milan until June 30, 2011.

“I would like to end my career here. This is a special group of people and it would be very hard to leave for something else that I do not know.”

Seedorf has been in fine form of late and the man who scored in the 1-1 with Catania on Sunday is looking forward to another Champions League showdown against Liverpool.

“Reaching the Final was one of our season objectives, along with ending the campaign in the top four positions,” he continued.

“We worked hard and we knew we could do something important. Facing Liverpool again will be just another motivating factor for us,” explained the player, who has won the European Cup with a record three different outfits – Real Madrid, Ajax and the Rossoneri.

“I am sure we can do well, we have gained experience and we know how to prepare for this kind of match. We want to lift the Cup and this time it will not end on penalties.”

Kaka bites back at critics
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Milan star Kaka insists that the Rossoneri deserve to be praised rather than criticised for their campaign.

The Rossoneri have only qualified for the preliminaries of next season’s Champions League after their struggles in Serie A.

And some have again asked whether the Calciopoli hit club should have been allowed entry into Europe after reaching the Champions League Final.

“Milan have been criticised heavily this season,” said Kaka after picking up an award on Monday night.

“Not only have we been attacked for the lone striker system adopted by the Coach, but basically for everything.

“However, we have reached the Champions League Final against Liverpool and I believe everyone should admit that we have done very well,” added the Brazilian.

“Our first objective, to reach next year’s preliminaries, has been reached. Now we are missing the second one.”

The Rossoneri’s appearance in the Champions League decider on May 23 will be a record 25th by an Italian team.

The six-time European champions will be hoping to avenge the 2005 loss in Istanbul, when they ended up losing on penalties after Liverpool’s incredible comeback from a 3-0 half-time deficit.

Kaka hails European AC Milan
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Kaká was pleased with Milan’s performance against Catania, which saw the Rossoneri qualify for next season’s Champions League.

The San Siro outfit was held to a 1-1 draw by the Sicilian outfit on Bologna’s neutral turf and failed to finish many scoring opportunities, but can now focus on the Champions League Final with Liverpool.

“I think we played a good match today, especially in the first half,” said Kaká.

“Both sides were affected by the heat today, but we managed to do well. We were not that effective after the break, but I think that’s normal considering the heat and the fatigue.

“Now there is the game with Udinese, but we have reached our objective for next year’s Champions League preliminary round and this allows us to focus on the Final. We achieved an important result.”

Teammate Filippo Inzaghi was also happy with the result and eager to play the most important match of the season in Athens on May 23.

“I honestly thought that the goal I scored was valid, but the important things is that we qualified for the preliminary round of the Champions League next year,” said Inzaghi, whose goal was ruled out for offside.

“We hope to do well in Athens. The heat held us back a bit, but we played a good game. Now, we will be playing for the big one in ten days,” concluded the world champion.

Ancelotti: Bring on Liverpool
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Milan are now certain of a top four finish, so Carlo Ancelotti says they can focus on the Champions League Final against Liverpool.

The 1-1 draw with Catania on neutral turf in Bologna proved enough to mathematically earn them a place in next season’s preliminary round, as Empoli were defeated at Siena.

It is an impressive achievement considering the Rossoneri started the campaign with an eight-point Calciopoli penalty.

“We know the way Liverpool play very well, and they can say the same about us,” noted the Coach.

These teams last met in a sensational 3-3 draw in Istanbul, the Premiership outfit going on to win the trophy on penalties in 2005.

Both sides have changed since then and Ancelotti revealed his tactical wish-list for Rafa Benitez.

“When Steven Gerrard is in the middle, Liverpool are less solid in the centre of midfield,” he explained.

“But when he goes wide and Xabi Alonso is in the centre, then they are more protected. I would prefer to face the first option.”

Catania 1:1 AC Milan - match report
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Scorers: Seedorf 5 (M), Spinesi 62 (C)

Milan were unable to get the better of Catania, as they wasted far too many chances to secure the points.

The Sicilians were still forced to play on neutral turf, but for the first time since their ban following the rioting on February 2, they were allowed to have fans in the stadium. Both sides needed points from this clash, as Catania were still not safe from the drop despite being in the top four for much of the season, while Milan had an eye on securing their Champions League qualifying place and another on the Athens Final on May 23.

Giorgio Lucenti was suspended, joining Gianluca Falsini, Morimoto, Mattia Biso and Colucci on the sidelines, while Ronaldo will probably miss the rest of the season with a thigh injury.

Pippo Inzaghi fired just wide from seven yards after three minutes, then couldn't get enough power on Clarence Seedorf's cutback.

Milan were dominating and went ahead early on when Kaka pushed forward and rolled across for Seedorf to sweep in with the inside of his left foot from the edge of the area.

Nelson Dida tipped a Sardo cross-shot over the bar and from the resulting corner Cesar's header shaved the far upright. A Vargas free kick curled right from practically the corner flag, deflected on to the crossbar.

An Andrea Pirlo free kick was pushed round the post and from the resulting corner another spectacular shot from Cristian Brocchi brought a great save out of Armando Pantanelli.

Pantanelli also did well to keep out Kaka's solo run, while moments later Giuseppe Mascara's first touch let him down.

Seedorf cut in from the left and floated a finish just over the bar and the Dutchman showed his stunning form at the moment with a counter-attack created by Kaka pushed round the post by Pantanelli.

Marek Jankulovski fired just over from 30 metres and Inzaghi hit the back of the net from the Czech's pass, but it was correctly ruled out for offside.

Milan have shown a tendency not to close up their games when dominating and Catania were able to equalise on 62 minutes. Gionatha Spinesi celebrated the birth of his daughter Giada this week with a splendid volley that he kept low and precise into the far corner.

Brocchi sent Alberto Gilardino clear with a through ball only for the striker to hit the side-netting.

Milan risked defeat in the final minutes, with Dida fingertipping a wonderful curling Caserta attempt over the bar.

Catania: Pantanelli; Sardo, Cesar, Stovini, Vargas; Baiocco, Edusei, Caserta; Izco, Spinesi (Rossini 82), Mascara (Silvestri 85)

Milan: Dida; Oddo, Nesta, Maldini (Kaladze 65), Jankulovski; Gattuso (Gourcuff 80), Pirlo, Brocchi; Kakà, Seedorf; Inzaghi (Gilardino 65)

Ref: Saccani

Ambrosini explains his revival
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Massimo Ambrosini is overjoyed at renewing his contract and is convinced Milan can lift the Champions League.

The midfielder had been linked with Fiorentina after a series of injuries over the past two seasons, but put pen to paper on a new deal tying him to the club until 2010.

“This is a wonderful time and I really wanted to extend my contract with the Rossoneri. Now I just need to concentrate on the Athens Final against Liverpool.”

Ambrosini was part of the squad that lost on penalties after a 3-3 draw in Istanbul in 2005 and is eager to avenge that day.

“We are more convinced of our strength now than we were back then. The victory over Manchester United gave us that extra confidence.”

The 30-year-old midfielder has been struggling with fitness worries, but explains where it all changed for him.

“For me, and the whole team, the turning point was our training period in Malta over the Christmas break.

“We all worked very well there and our fitness levels improved vastly, with them our results as well. I needed two things – to train regularly and play consistently. I had both and now can finally play to my standards.”

Ambrosini’s return has also seen a tactical shift, as with him in the centre Clarence Seedorf and Kaka are given more freedom to roam.

“The secret is to collaborate between the midfield and defence,” noted the Italian international.

There has been a marked improvement in Milan’s performances since the winter break and fitness Coach Daniele Tognaccini reveals why.

“Before Christmas we set out a very detailed training regime. In the Malta camp Massimo began his work aimed at getting him to this level of fitness he is at now.

“It all went well and he rediscovered his courage, confidence and consistency to reach his peak. Basically, he is like a new signing.”

Catania vs. AC Milan - match preview
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Catania go into Week 36 in the knowledge that three points will probably be enough to ensure their Serie A safety and will do all they can to get them against Milan at the Stadio Dall’Ara. And with the Rossoneri already having one eye on the Champions League Final against Liverpool, the Sicilians may have a great chance.

Catania have had a bit of a struggle getting out of the relegation zone recently while Milan have been enjoying a good run of results. In Week 35 the Rossazzuri were defeated by Empoli 2-1 but deserved at least a point. Milan were stopped by Fiorentina at 0-0, but missed a penalty and had a decent display.

The Islanders are ninth from bottom, but three points away from Siena which means they are not safe yet. The Milanese giants are fourth and very close to qualifying for the Champions League.

Coach Pasquale Marino is set to reconfirm a 4-3-3 formation. Andrea Sottil will play centrally in defence while Peruvian man Jorge Vargas will cover the left. Fabio Caserta will probably be available for the game and should play next to Mark Edusei and Davide Baiocco. Argentine youngster Mariano Izco will form the trident with Gionatha Spinesi and Giuseppe Mascara.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti is happy with his team and will give a chance to several players who have been out during this season. Once again, Marcos Cafu and Giuseppe Favalli should be preferred to Massimo Oddo and Marek Jankulovski.

Former Rangers ace Gennaro Gattuso may start from the bench, which means Yoann Gourcuff will be included in the starting XI. Catania will be desperate for the points, so Ancelotti may decide not to risk Kaka. Ricardo Oliveira and Clarence Seedorf should then play behind Filippo Inzaghi. Ronaldo is still out injured.

Man on fire: Giuseppe Mascara (Catania) – ‘Topolinick’ must contribute to his club’s survival hopes. His teammate Gionatha Spinesi is doing a lot on his own, but Catania need Mascara’s input.

Last season: Not played

Form guide: Catania (L D W D L) Milan (W W W W D)

Catania (probable): Pantanelli; Silvestri, Sottil, Stovini, Vargas; Baiocco, Edusei, Caserta; Izco, Spinesi, Mascara

Milan (probable): Dida; Cafu, Nesta, Kaladze, Favalli; Ambrosini, Brocchi, Gourcuff; Seedorf, Oliveira; F.Inzaghi

Ancelotti: Bring back Sheva!
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Carlo Ancelotti has come out into the open, confirming, “Milan will do everything possible to bring back Andriy Shevchenko.”

The Ukrainian demanded a £30m transfer to Chelsea last summer after seven years at San Siro, but has not settled in at Stamford Bridge and has now denied telling ‘The Sun’ that he is happy in London.

“Adriano Galliani made our position very clear,” commented Ancelotti in today’s Press Conference.

“It remains a difficult operation financially, even if Milan will do everything possible to bring him back. He is owned by Chelsea and their intentions are the main factor here.”

The Rossoneri have always said they’ll keep the door open for a shock comeback and have even invited Shevchenko to Athens as their guest for the Champions League Final against Liverpool on May 23.

He is not the only star linked to the club this week, as rumours of a split between Ronaldinho and Barcelona are hotting up.

“Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho and Shevchenko are three world-class players who would improve any squad,” added the Coach.

“Franck Ribery is also a player I like very much. He is a dynamic figure and had a great World Cup.”

They must qualify for the Champions League before making big money signings and that means securing a top four finish in Serie A.

“We have to focus on the League and sealing our position so it’s not a problem on our minds ahead of Athens.”

This Sunday they visit Catania, who will have their fans back in the stands after a ban was overturned for the first time since February, but it will be on neutral turf at Bologna’s Stadio Dall’Ara.

“Catania will be extremely motivated and love to play good football, so their best characteristics are in attack. It will also be a 15.00 kick-off, so very hot and a draining game.

“Massimo Ambrosini is doing quite well, but we don’t think it is opportune to risk him, so Yoann Gourcuff will take his place. Everyone else is fine, including Paolo Maldini, who trained all week and I think he will play.”

Ronaldo is out with a thigh strain and is not expected to play again this season, as he only resumed light running on Friday.

“We will field two strikers and a Trequartista. It’ll be either Alberto Gilardino or Pippo Inzaghi, not both together.”

It is reported that Alessandro Nesta is considering retirement from the Italian national squad.

“He must make his own considerations. It’s true the fixture list is increasingly packed for internationals, but I think that Nesta will reflect on it and return to the Azzurri, because is the best defender around.”

Rijkaard releases Ronaldinho
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Ronaldinho is closer than ever to a Milan move after Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard asked the club to “make other choices.”

The former European and World Player of the Year was the subject of a bitter fan protest this week after Barca’s shock exit from the Copa del Rey, losing 4-0 to Getafe.

The supporters urged him to “go to Milan” and it seems that Coach Rijkaard – a Rossoneri legend himself – agrees.

“How many years can a team sustain itself at the top level? Three or four, then it is necessary to change, both within the squad and in its management,” he told ‘Catalunya Radio.’

“This group has played very well, but it is only normal that there have to be other projects on the horizon.”

It is the clearest indication yet that the Nou Camp club are due a clear-out in the summer and Ronaldinho is the prime candidate to move on.

There have been many reported locker-room rows at Barcelona this season, in particular between Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o.

Agent Roberto de Assis is in Spain at the moment and it’s claimed his next visit to Milan – where he also represents Ricardo Oliveira – could officially open the negotiations for a transfer.

Adriano Galliani is set to meet with Barcelona directors for the G-14 summit on May 22 and it’s believed he could then formalise an offer of £47m.

The money would prove very handy indeed for the Spaniards to finance a complete renovation of their squad.

Kaka's map to Athens
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Kaka has urged Milan to bring in Andriy Shevchenko and Ronaldinho next season, revealing as a child he mapped out his career leading up to Athens.

“I chose Milan because in San Paolo I played alongside Leonardo for six months and he was constantly outlining how great the club was,” explained the 25-year-old who was snapped up for just over £5m in 2003.

“I was very young when I planned out my career. I was going to play for a big club in Brazil, then come to Europe, to Italy, take part in a World Cup and Olympics. At the end of the map was the Champions League Final.”

He will play his second Final on May 23 against Liverpool, the same side that beat the Rossoneri in the 2005 edition on penalties after a 3-3 draw.

“Steven Gerrard is more important to them than Rafa Benitez. He is a great player, a leader on the field and a real focal point for Liverpool,” Kaka told the ‘Corriere dello Sport.’

Another Premiership player will be cheering on Milan, as the club invited Shevchenko to sit in the stands as their guest in Athens. Should the Ukrainian perhaps regret his decision to join Chelsea?

“I am pleased he’ll be there and I wouldn’t speak of a wrong choice. Perhaps in two or three years he will have won everything with Chelsea. Of course it’s worse for him to be in the stands cheering on his ex-teammates.

“It is also disappointing for me, because he is a great friend and a real champion. I would definitely like him back at Milan, so if the President decided to bring him in, I’d be happy.”

Another star Kaka has publicly backed for a San Siro switch is his Brazil teammate Ronaldinho, who was on the end of a fan protest after Barcelona’s Copa del Rey debacle this week.

“He is a great player and there’s no secret we have an excellent rapport. Ronaldinho at Milan would be wonderful, as he’s one of the best in the world. His arrival would be positive both for me and the club.”

If Ronaldinho is the subject of transfer speculation, then so is Kaka, as Real Madrid continue to offer record-breaking fees.

“I have said a thousand times that I have a contract with Milan until 2011 and will respect it. After the summer holidays, unless there are truly extraordinary decisions, I will be a Milan player.

“Only the club can sell me, so if they don’t opt to kick me out, I will remain. I am happy here and feel at home. My family feels good here too and I have the opportunity to learn a great deal.”

Already the Champions League top scorer, Kaka is the hot favourite to pick up the Ballon d’Or at the end of 2007.

“I am in good form as I reached the top at the right time, but I know that overall I can and must improve. It is an individual prize and I leave it to the media to make that decision. In any case, to win the Ballon d’Or you need a team behind you and this is why I am only focused on Athens.”

Kaka drops Copa America
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Kaka has sent a letter to the Brazilian Federation asking to be left out of the Copa America. “I haven’t rested for three seasons and could not perform.”

The Milan starlet has just turned 25 and is a favourite to win the Ballon d’Or for 2007, but as he prepares for the Champions League Final, he is already looking ahead to next season.

“I am always proud to be called up for the national team and, in view of a possible call for the Copa America, I believe I would not be in the ideal condition to give the performances expected of me at international level. I have not rested for three seasons,” said the letter printed on the Cbf official website.

As the Rossoneri cannot qualify in the top two of Serie A, they will have to go through a preliminary round in August – leaving Kaka precious little time to rest as the Copa America runs in Venezuela from June 26 to July 15.

“I thank you for your comprehension and with this letter formalise my request to be released from Copa America duty. My pride at wearing the Brazil shirt is untouched and I hope to feel that joy in other occasions.”

Before this request, only one other player had asked to be left out of the tournament, when Barcelona’s Ronaldinho pulled out.

Brazil Coach Carlos Dunga said he was “disappointed” at losing Kaka, but that this would be an opportunity for other players to shine.

Ambrosini pens new AC Milan deal
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Milan have ended speculation over his future by extending Massimo Ambrosini’s contract until 2010.

The midfielder had been linked with a move to Fiorentina, as his current deal was set to expire at the end of next season.

However, just days after Ambrosini said he would only “sit down at the table and talk after the Champions League Final,” he has already put pen to paper.

The announcement of the extension until June 30, 2010 was given by the official Milan website this evening.

Ambrosini turns 30 on May 29 and made his Rossoneri debut back in November 1995, so this is his 11th season at the San Siro.

Beset by a series of injuries over the past two seasons, the former Cesena man’s return to fitness has been instrumental in Milan’s surge for fourth place and reaching the Champions League Final against Liverpool.

The decision to hand him a new contract comes after having signed new deals with Marcos Cafu, Ricky Kaka and Nelson Dida.

Nesta charmed in Athens
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Alessandro Nesta has had good fortune in Athens and hopes that lucky charm continues when Milan face Liverpool on May 23.

“These are the nights when history is made, so we must win,” he said of the Champions League Final.

“I have already been to Athens to play with Lazio. On that day, we got a victory…”

The former Biancocelesti defender beat Panionios Athens 4-0 on their way to the 1998-99 Cup Winners’ Cup.

Most famously, the Olympic Stadium – the same where they’ll take on Liverpool later this month – was the stage for Milan’s 4-0 demolition of favourites Barcelona in the Champions League Final.

With Paolo Maldini still a doubt to play on May 23, the return of Nesta after a long injury lay-off has been crucial.

“I came back at the right moment, I couldn’t have timed it better,” he told ‘Milan Channel.’

“The team was hitting its stride and so did I, that’s where the good results came from. The three-month rest did me a lot of good – as indeed it would have for anyone.”

There is speculation over Nesta’s future at the San Siro, but he insisted there was nothing to worry about.

“Yesterday I received a phone call from Adriano Galliani. Something is in motion now,” he smiled.

It has been reported that Milan’s stars will receive £136,000 each as a bonus if they win the Champions League this season.

Bonera demands AC Milan win
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Daniele Bonera has called on his Milan teammates to beat Catania this weekend so that they can prepare properly for the Champions League Final.

The two teams meet on Sunday and the stopper is eager for the club to net the three points which would assure them of a top four finish this season.

“It will be a difficult match,” said Bonera to Milan Channel. “However, we want to win it so that we can put the championship behind us by netting a Champions League place for next season.

“It would be harmful for us to go into such an important game as the Champions League Final by still having to think about our domestic campaign.”

This weekend’s clash will take place at the neutral ground of Bologna’s Stadio Dall’Ara, however a recent ruling means that fans will be able to attend the game.

“I’m happy that we will be able to play in front of fans as that adds another incentive for us,” he continued.

“Catania are going through a bad patch even if they have played some good matches lately. I’m sorry for Catania, but we must win the game.”

Bonera joined the club in the summer after four years at Parma and is looking forward to appearing in his first European Cup Final against Liverpool.

“I am sure it will be an amazing experience for me because before being a Milan player, I am a Milan fan,” added the 25-year-old. “I have only seen such Finals on TV before…”

AC Milan look to PSV ace Alex
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Champions League finalists Milan are preparing to strengthen their ageing defence with PSV Eindhoven stopper Alex.

The 23-year-old, who has impressed in this season’s European competition, is liked by Coach Carlo Ancelotti and club scouts.

However, they are set to face some competition for the Brazilian whose contractual situation is a little unclear.

Although he finds himself in Holland, Alex seems to be actually owned by Chelsea who couldn’t take him to Stamford Bridge because of work permit problems.

Now stories in the peninsula claim that the London club are willing to let him join the Italian giants, but only if Kakha Kaladze [pictured] is included in the deal.

The Georgian was on the verge of a Chelsea move two years ago, but no fee could be agreed and he signed a new Rossoneri contract instead.

Even though Milan want Alex, Vice-President Adriano Galliani has insisted that Kaladze will be going nowhere.

“Kaladze, like all of the other Rossoneri key players, is absolutely untransferable and not for sale,” said the official.

“We have confirmed all our champions for next season and we are not willing to start any negotiations about moves.”

Shevchenko happy at Chelsea
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Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko has quashed the latest speculation linking him with a move back to Milan.

The Ukrainian joined the Stamford Bridge outfit last summer in a £30m move, but has struggled to settle.

He was again paired with a Rossoneri reunion this week, but the former European Footballer of the Year insists he’s happy in the English capital.

“I do not regret my decision to leave Milan. It was down to me and I thought about it deeply,” said Shevchenko in an interview to the Sun.

“I knew it would be hard to adapt after so many years in Milan, but I would just want people to leave me the time to acclimatise and then you will see,” added the 30-year-old.

“I like London a lot and I feel good there. I am learning a new culture and a new way of living.

“It’s a new club and a new life for me. I certainly am not the first man to have trouble adapting to the Premiership.”

Reports in England have suggested that another problem for Sheva is his relationship with teammate Didier Drogba, who has allegedly accused him of being too selfish on the field of play.

“Football is a team game above all and we are both working to attain the same goal. Didier is having a terrific season and I am delighted about it,” explained the 2004 Golden Ball winner.

“He and I have very different playing styles. That’s what explains why we don’t have the same scoring statistics. In any case, I have never doubted my ability to find my best form again.

“We are all after the same objective — winning for the team and for our fans,” concluded the former Dynamo Kiev ace.

The striker underwent surgery on Tuesday to solve the hernia problem which ruled him out of the Champions League semi-final with Liverpool.

The operation was originally pencilled in for the end of the season but was brought forward. Shevchenko will therefore miss the FA Cup Final against Manchester United on May 19.

Oddo: It was the right move
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Milan defender Massimo Oddo has admitted that joining the Rossoneri in January was one of the best decisions of his career.

The World Cup winner headed north after almost five seasons with Lazio and is now just weeks away from appearing in his first Champions League Final.

“I believe that moving here was the right choice for me, the best decision I could take,” noted the right-back. “I have joined an amazing squad.

“I have been here for four months, we are fourth in the table and we are set to play for the Champions League. We have reached some important objectives.”

The Italian international has immediately won the faith of boss Carlo Ancelotti and Oddo maintains that the Coach will still be at Milan next term.

“In football the only thing that counts are results and he is one of the tacticians who has won the most,” explained the former Biancocelesti captain. “He is doing great and we are all sure he will stay.

“What we have done this year is excellent, especially if you consider what happened at the start of the season.

“We have achieved these results together, as a group, and the Coach kept us united despite the difficulties.

“We had nerves of steel and the club was always there to support us, as well as the fans. The Athens Final is a prize that must be shared between all of us.”

The stopper also dismissed fears that his side will lack motivation in their remaining League games against Catania and Udinese by focusing purely on the Athens showdown with Liverpool.

“Closing the championship is the main issue,” he added. “If we win against Catania, we will secure fourth place and this will allow us to concentrate on the Final.

“It is a big advantage for us and that’s what will drive us. From that point of view there are no problems at all.”

Ambrosini to pen AC Milan deal
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Football Italia

Massimo Ambrosini will sign a new contract with Milan at the end of this month, his agent has revealed.

The midfielder has been associated with a switch to Fiorentina in recent times even if Moreno Roggi doesn’t expect a summer move for his client.

“Ambrosini will extend his agreement with the Rossoneri after the Champions League Final,” he noted on Thursday.

“I can’t see anything else but that happening. The only thing that could change that is if the two parties suddenly moved apart, but that seems unlikely.

“As a result, I don’t think that Fiorentina are in a position to sign him, also because they have never asked me for the player either.”

Ambrosini’s future at the San Siro was again looking in doubt earlier this term after his failure to break into the first team.

Nevertheless, he has recently proved useful in both Serie A and the Champions League for boss Carlo Ancelotti.

The 1977-born international joined Milan in 1995 from Cesena and has been there ever since apart from a loan spell at Vicenza in 1997-98.

AC Milan eye Brazilian duo
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Football Italia

Milan scout Leonardo has confirmed that the Rossoneri are following Ze Roberto of Santos and Alexandre Pato of Porto Alegre.

The Rossoneri are planning their moves in the transfer market as they look to challenge Inter for next year’s Scudetto and have eyed the Brazilian duo, who had already been paired with the San Siro outfit.

“We are looking for players who can adapt well to Carlo Ancelotti’s tactical scheme,” Leonardo told the Brazilian website Globesporte.com.

“Ze Roberto of Santos is definitely one of these players,” added the former Rossoneri midfielder, who will switch to a coaching role with the club in July.

“We are also interested in Pato, although we believe that he might need some time to mature before playing in Europe,” concluded the 1994 World Cup winner.

The 32-year-old Ze Roberto had already looked set for a move to the Rossoneri last summer, but the transfer fell through because of a knee injury.

However, the South American has enjoyed an excellent season with Santos and will be free to leave in June, when is 10-month contract ends.

As to Pato, the 17-year-old is also a reported target for Inter and Juventus after impressing in the Selecao’s January victory at the South American Under-20s Championship.

Ronaldo makes AC Milan pledge
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Football Italia

Ronaldo is out for the rest of the season, but is already looking to the future and “very many years” in a Milan jersey.

Il Fenomeno has a splendid start to this spell, scoring seven goals since his January switch from Real Madrid, but is out for at least two weeks – perhaps four – with a thigh strain.

“I think my rapport with the Rossoneri will carry on for a very long time,” said the striker. “I was welcomed here in an incredible way.”

The Brazilian feared there would be a backlash due to his past at rivals Inter, but he quickly became a fan favourite on the other side of the San Siro.

“I am happy to have started well up until now, but one must continue and try to always improve. This little thigh strain was bad timing at this stage of the season, but it happened and we have to deal with it as soon as possible.”

There are reports Ronaldo could be back in time for the final Serie A game of the season at Reggina’s Stadio Granillo on May 27.

“We will see how the recovery process goes. It is a very delicate area of the muscle and I am an explosive player, so we need to be careful not to aggravate it with the sprint.”

His contract expires in June 2008, but there is already talk of a renewal on the table this summer.

Next term he will be able to play in the Champions League, though for the grand Final against Liverpool on May 23 he will try to be present.

“I had great fun watching the Manchester United match, as my teammates played an extraordinary game. I will be in the stands in Athens as well to cheer them on.”

Cafu: "We'll erase Istanbul"
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Football Italia

Marcos Cafu is certain that Milan will make up for their painful 2005 defeat to Liverpool when the two teams meet in the Champions League Final yet again.

The defender was a part of the Rossoneri side who threw away a three-goal lead in the Istanbul finale before they were defeated on penalties, but is out for revenge on May 23 in Athens.

“I promise you that we will do everything to beat them and try to forget that defeat. What happened in Istanbul was unbelievable, one of those things that won’t happen again,” said Cafu to uefa.com.

“That match represents a moment which is hard to describe. It was like taking a shower in cold water, or as if a piano had fallen on to your head.

“I was destroyed, but it is part of this great game called football,” continued the former Roma man.

The 36-year-old Brazilian signed a new contract with Milan last week, which ties him to the Rossoneri until June 2008, but admits that he has yet to decide on what will happen afterwards.

“I might end my career here in Milan, but there is a possibility of going back to Brazil,” explained Cafu, who praised his teammate Paolo Maldini for his will and determination in the game.

“He is an inspiration for all players who are 30 and think they can’t play any more. Paolo works hard every day and has such a positive attitude, his dedication is an example to us all.”

Cafu arrived in Italy in 1997 and spent six years in the Roma jersey, before joining the San Siro giants in 2003.

Milan reserve Shevchenko place
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Football Italia

Milan have revealed that they will keep free a non-EU spot in their squad just in case Andriy Shevchenko desires a Chelsea exit.

The Ukrainian has been consistently linked with a return to the Rossoneri since his £30m summer move to Stamford Bridge and the Italian club are keeping their doors open.

“Sheva has a special place in Milan’s heart and we have decided to keep a non-EU spot for him for a few months, as we wait to see what happens,” said Vice-President Adriano Galliani.

“Andriy and his wife have been invited to Athens to follow us in the Champions League Final. As for the future, we will see, as now he is a Chelsea player.

“Anyway he knows that we will keep a spot open for a few months seeing as Kaka has freed up a non-EU place after his marriage.

“But we don’t really want to talk too much about the future as we just have to think about the Final for now.”

The former Dynamo Kiev ace has struggled to adapt to life in the Premiership and has scored just four League goals.

President Silvio Berlusconi had stated last week that he would gladly welcome back the 2004 European Footballer of the Year if he decided to leave Chelsea.

“When it comes to Shevchenko our doors are not just ajar, they are wide open,” declared the former Prime Minister.

Shevchenko, who spent seven years with Milan, reportedly left the San Siro at the request of his wife who was keen on London life.

Zapata zooms in on AC Milan
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Football Italia

Udinese defender Cristian Zapata is ready to leave his current club in the hope of joining Italian giants Milan.

The 20-year-old has attracted the interest of several sides and has admitted that his departure from the Zebrette at the end of the season is almost certain.

“I have spoken with the Udinese management about my future and I am 70 per cent sure I will leave,” said the Colombian.

“Right now, however, I want to think about my current team and focus on the end of the season. Then, when the championship is over, I will talk with other teams,” added the stopper.

Zapata is wanted by a host of sides given his ability, but he seems to have clear ideas about how he wants his future to shape out.

“Both Fiorentina and Milan are interested in me,” he continued.

“I would prefer Milan because of their overall value and for the squad in general, but playing for Fiorentina would also represent a positive choice for my career.”

Both clubs are keen on new defenders as Milan will lose Alessandro Costacurta, and possibly Paolo Maldini, to retirement.

Fiorentina need rearguard reinforcements seeing as Dario Dainelli will leave on a free after failing to agree terms over a new deal.

The San Siro side are reportedly ready to offer £5m plus the co-ownership of forward Marco Borriello. The Viola plan a similar deal by including Reginaldo in their bid.

Ferguson drinks to AC Milan
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Football Italia

Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson is sure Milan will defeat Liverpool in the Champions League Final. “I plan to drink to their success,” he said.

The Rossoneri reached the Athens Final after defeating the Red Devils in the semi-final and the tactician is ready to gamble on the Italian outfit’s victory.

“I would bet for sure that Milan will win the Champions League, I’m absolutely certain of it,” said Ferguson in an interview to The Sun.

“Their second-leg victory over us was stupendous, fantastic and extraordinary,” he added after his side earned their 16th League title on Sunday.

“I told [Milan boss] Carlo Ancelotti at the end of the semi-final that there is no way he can now not win the tournament.

“Carlo gave me a magnificent bottle of wine, but I told him there is no point in giving such a wonderful gift if he fails in the Final.

“In fact, I told him I would only drink his wine once I see him lifting the Champions Cup.”

Manchester United were unable to take advantage of their 3-2 win at Old Trafford in the first leg with Milan and were thumped 3-0 in the return match, thanks to goals from Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino.

“Last week, Milan were fresher and better prepared tactically and physically,” added Ferguson.

“I am still trying to analyse and understand the factors involved. But the truth is we faced one of the best performances in the entire history of the San Siro outfit.”

AC Milan ponder Ribery approach
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Football Italia

Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti would be happy to welcome Marseille winger Franck Ribery to the San Siro this summer, according to reports in Italy.

The 24-year-old, who played a vital role in France’s run to the World Cup Final last year, has many admirers all over Europe and is considered as Zinedine Zidane’s successor for Les Bleus.

According to the weekly magazine Controcampo, Ancelotti has added the player’s name to his wish list as he believes the Frenchman could adapt well to his tactics given his versatility.

Ribery is contracted to his current club until 2010, but a summer move seems on the cards after the Ligue 1 outfit agreed to let him go should they receive a suitable offer.

The wing wizard, who had stated in the past few months that Serie A was one of his preferred destinations, has confirmed that his future might be with a foreign club.

“Now I am only attracted by abroad. If I were to leave, it would only be for a foreign outfit,” said Ribery to France Football.

“I know I am not very excited by a country like Germany. I prefer English and Spanish Leagues.

“The clubs that make me dream? Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea and Milan,” he continued.

“My priority is to play Champions League football next season and I will do my best for OM to reach it. Then we will see what happens at the end of the campaign.”

AC Milan make Final offer
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Football Italia

Milan season ticket holders will be given a priority purchase option for the Champions League Final, confirmed the club on Tuesday.

The Rossoneri will face Liverpool in Athens on May 23 and Vice-President Adriano Galliani wants only the outfit’s most loyal supporters present in the Olympic Stadium.

“I am trying to do something romantic by bringing only our season ticket holders to Athens,” said Galliani on Tuesday.

“I see that someone is attacking me for this decision, but I am sure it mirrors the Milanisti’s real spirit.

“I believe that the supporters who have been following the team every Sunday over the past 10, 20 years, and don’t go to the stadium just to see Milan-Manchester United, deserve to travel to Athens.

“As long as I am the director of this club, I will do all I can to favour the fans who always show up at the San Siro to see Milan, no matter what happens.”

Milan have been handed 17,000 tickets by UEFA and every season ticket holder is free to buy one ticket from the club’s website before noon on Wednesday May 9.

“The tickets assigned by UEFA are not enough for all the 2006-07 season ticket holders,” read a note on the website.

”If there are more than 17,000 requests made then the most faithful supporters will be privileged.”

Costacurta takes assistant role
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Football Italia

Milan veteran Alessandro Costacurta will join Carlo Ancelotti on the San Siro bench at the end of the season.

The 41-year-old defender is in his 20th campaign with the Rossoneri and confirmed earlier this year that he was ready to hang up his boots in the summer.

“On Carlo’s suggestion, Costacurta will become second assistant Coach to Ancelotti beside Mauro Tassotti,” Vice-President Adriano Galliani told the club’s official website.

“Also from July 1, Leonardo will return to be part of the management team,” continued the statement.

The former Italian international had already been close to retiring two years ago, but Galliani convinced him to extend his contract with the Via Turati club.

Costacurta has won seven Scudetti and four Champions League titles with Milan, as well as one Coppa Italia and five Italian Super Cups.

There could also be a fifth European trophy with the Rossoneri facing Liverpool in this year’s Final, and Billy also became the oldest man ever to play in the competition against AEK Athens this season.

Paolo Maldini, the only other survivor from the glorious Milan squad led by Arrigo Sacchi at the end of the ‘80s, had also stated that he might retire in June, but he now seems set to continue for another year.

The veteran is currently trying to recover from a knee injury and hopes to be available for the Champions League Final with Liverpool in Athens on May 23.

AC Milan plan Eto'o swoop
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Football Italia

Milan are planning to make a bid for Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, according to the latest reports in Italy.

The Rossoneri have been linked with Ronaldinho, who remains President Silvio Berlusconi’s dream, but La Gazzetta dello Sport suggests that the Via Turati shirt may change it’s target.

The conversations with ‘Dinho’s brother and agent Roberto Assis have not brought any concrete results and Milan do not want to compromise the excellent relationship between the two clubs.

Eto’o could instead leave the Nou Camp at the end of the season after a much-publicised spat between him, Ronaldinho and boss Frank Rijkaard, although the player recently denied that there were any problems.

Milan might now try to take advantage of the situation, also considering the fact that Carlo Ancelotti is a big fan of Eto’o, who he believes would adapt perfectly to his tactics.

The striker is valued at £28m, with a £2.8m per-year contract, and is also a reported target for Liverpool and Arsenal, who are allegedly ready to include Thierry Henry in the deal.

Mancini feels neglected
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Football Italia

Inter boss Roberto Mancini continues to complain that the media “praises” Milan more than his side because of complex ownership issues.

“I don’t want to cause controversy,” said the tactician when interviewed by Sky Italia television this evening.

“I complimented Gennaro Gattuso and Kaka on reaching the Champions League Final. What I will say is that being a club whose President owns 22 newspapers, what Milan does is praised more than the other sides.”

Rossoneri President Silvio Berlusconi is a media magnate and former Italian Prime Minister who possesses television companies and sections of the Press.

“The media has been a bit heavy-handed in praising Milan’s achievement, but I don’t say it in a cruel way. I was not trying to cause trouble, it is a wider issue at work here.”

This increasingly bitter back and forth on the front pages has overshadowed the Nerazzurri’s record-breaking Scudetto season, as today’s 1-0 win at Messina took them up to 90 points.

Ancelotti gets the point
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Football Italia

Carlo Ancelotti admits he’s happier to have drawn today’s match with Fiorentina than Wednesday’s Champions League clash.

“It was only to be expected that we would not be able to maintain the same tempo as midweek. It was better to draw this game than that one,” said the Milan Coach.

They still had their chances, though, as Kaka had a goal controversially disallowed for a push on Riccardo Montolivo and the Brazilian also hit a penalty against the upright.

“I thought it was an incorrect decision to rule out that goal, but not much changes anyway, so there’s no point discussing it now,” added Ancelotti.

The 0-0 draw with the Viola knocks his team down to fourth place behind Lazio, but they are in the Champions League Final after the 3-0 hammering of Manchester United. Their opponents on May 23, Liverpool, rested almost all their stars in the 1-0 defeat at Fulham this weekend.

“Liverpool are already safely in their League position, while we are still not certain of a top four finish. We have to seal the deal with Catania next week so we can concentrate on the Final.”

Few expected the Rossoneri to even get this far, let alone be in with a chance of lifting Europe’s most prestigious trophy.

“I think I, the players and the club dealt with matters well in difficult times. We never sought alibis or scapegoats, instead working to solve our problems,” he explained.

“It’s not in my nature to be a strict sergeant. I am a normal Coach who has great affection for these players I have worked with for many years. It is not just a professional rapport.”

The relationship with their neighbours is certainly less cordial, as Inter have continually criticised the alleged ‘media prejudice’ in favour of Milan.

“Inter had a great season and deserved to win the Scudetto, we had a great Champions League campaign. We have to stop always making comparisons, as it eventually gets irritating,” said Ancelotti.

Fiorentina have lost sight of a top four finish, but are still in the running for a UEFA Cup spot.

“It was a good performance against a Milan side that was less sharp than on Wednesday, but we also did well to limit them,” said Cesare Prandelli.

“We had several shots on goal and I am happy that my lads passed the San Siro test. Giampaolo Pazzini does not have the experience or tricks of Luca Toni, but he has other qualities and is gaining in know-how all the time.”

Cafu embraces Rossoneri
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Football Italia

Marcos Cafu has spoken of his joy at extending his contract with Milan for another year and thanked Massimo Oddo.

The Brazilian was ready to end his career in Japan when he left Roma in 2003, but has been revitalised as a right-back at the San Siro and this week penned a new deal holding him until June 30, 2008.

“It is always nice to know that a great club like Milan is counting on you,” smiled the player who will turn 37 next month.

“We renewed the contract in a very relaxed manner, as we immediately reached an agreement without problems.

“I am incredibly happy to still be here along with this team and the Rossoneri colours for another year, so we can continue to make our mark in 2008. I always hoped the renewal would come and it did.”

There were fears this would be Cafu’s last Serie A campaign, as he spent most of the season out with injuries and personal issues that saw him repeatedly fly home to Brazil.

“At the start of the year we evaluated all the options, but I was able to fix my personal problems. From then on I found a new driving force. To stay here another season is an enormous pleasure for me, I hope it will be a less troubled campaign than this one.”

Pendolino appeared to be on his way out after the arrival of Lazio full-back Oddo in the January transfer market, but he insists if anything it is a bonus.

“Every great side needs two strong players per role, so Oddo has been important for me and the club, as he has done very well so far. We can take it in turns so we can both be in top shape for every appointment.”

Cafu never lost his smile on the field, not even after Milan were given an eight-point Calciopoli penalty and forced to go through the Champions League preliminary round.

“One must always have courage and not let your head drop in difficult times. By reaching the Champions League Final and a top four finish in Serie A, we proved that we are a great team.”

Ambrosini: Liverpool in my destiny
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Football Italia

Massimo Ambrosini sees the hand of fate giving Milan the opportunity to avenge their 2005 defeat to Liverpool.

“When I saw our opponents in the Final would be Liverpool, I thought that life is strange and always gives you another chance,” smiled the midfielder.

“We had done it that night, all we had to do was finish the job. Now we have that opportunity.”

Ambrosini was one of the players in Istanbul in 2005 when the Rossoneri were leading 3-0 only to lose on penalties after a 3-3 draw.

Now Carlo Ancelotti’s men have another shot at the trophy in Athens on May 23, earning that right thanks to a magnificent performance to eliminate Manchester United 5-3 on aggregate.

“We progressed because our individual talents put themselves at the total service of the collective and in so doing they shone even brighter. Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Pippo Inzaghi worked their behinds off. As for Manchester, their soloists did their own thing and they were beaten. Milan always manage to find their strength at the right time.”

Inter have made cutting comments about Milan’s Champions League status, though Ambrosini reminds them of what it takes to be the only Italian side in the final four.

“Of the 14 players who took part in the semi-final, eight of them were Italian. We are very proud of that and so are our fans, not that we want to criticise anyone, of course.”

It has been a particularly stressful journey for the Italian international, who has struggled with a series of injuries over the past few years.

“The setbacks were incessant. When I finally got back to playing regularly, I rediscovered that mentality I had lost. I wasn’t exactly afraid I’d have to retire, but I did fear I would never be able to play at a certain level again. There were terrible moments in which I was just so exhausted of it all, as the moment I returned I’d get another minor injury.”

Yet Ambrosini could be set for a departure in the summer, as he is one of the few stars yet to extend his contract past June 2008.

“For now I am only focused on May 23,” he told the ‘Corriere dello Sport’. “I am honoured by the interest from Fiorentina, as they are a great squad with an excellent Coach in Cesare Prandelli.”

AC Milan 0:0 Fiorentina - match report
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Kaka missed a penalty and had a goal controversially disallowed in this stalemate at the San Siro with Fiorentina.

Although both teams were docked points in the Calciopoli scandal, this was still a head-to-head battle for a place in Europe. A win would all but secure the Rossoneri's Champions League status - days after earning a place in the Athens Final against Liverpool - while the Viola were looking to claim a UEFA Cup spot.

Luca Toni was left at home with a recurring ankle problem (and insistent rumours he's moving to Bayern Munich), but Milan may have lost Ronaldo for the rest of the season due to a thigh strain. With Alberto Gilardino suspended, Carlo Ancelotti was unable to rest his key players.

Milan hit the back of the net after six minutes, but the goal was controversially disallowed. Giuseppe Favalli robbed Martin Jorgensen in his new right-back slot and crossed for Kaka's header, but the Brazilian was judged to have pushed his marker. It was an extremely generous decision, as there barely seemed to be contact.

Giampaolo Pazzini was sent clear by Alessandro Potenza's through ball and Nelson Dida skid forward to block at the Under-21 international's feet. Pazzini held up the ball for Reginaldo's splendid half-volley that Dida fingertipped on to the woodwork.

Soon after there was more controversy, this time against Fiorentina, as Alessandro Gamberini was judged to have handled the ball inside the area, when it seemed to be an unlucky ricochet off his chest and then on to his arm. Kaka took the penalty and it struck the inside of the near post to go all the way across the face of goal and back out again.

Adrian Mutu had a wonderful opportunity to give Fiorentina the lead when he pounced on Kakha Kaladze's error, but veteran Favalli dived in with a decisive tackle as the last line of defence.

On the stroke of half-time Ricardo Oliveira's splendid angled drive from the edge of the area was fingertipped round the post by Frey.

Andrea Pirlo's screamer was just over and then the midfielder sent Cafu clear in the area, but although his first touch was sensational, something between a cross and a shot saw the chance go begging.

Pirlo fired one of his trademark free kicks just past the post and at the other end Pazzini's snapshot drifted wide of the woodwork. Deep into stoppages Kaladze's desperate tackle charged down Pazzini at the by-line.

Milan: Dida; Cafu, Nesta, Kaladze, Favalli; Gattuso (Brocchi 76), Pirlo, Ambrosini; Kakà, Serginho (Jankulovski 46); Ricardo Oliveira (Inzaghi 68)

Fiorentina: Frey; Jorgensen, Kroldrup, Gamberini (Dainelli 51), Pasqual; Pazienza, Liverani (Blasi 64), Montolivo; Reginaldo (Kuzmanovic 84), Pazzini, Mutu

Ref: Rosetti

Missed penalty: Kaka 26 (M)

Mancini doesn't rate AC Milan
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Roberto Mancini has launched another attack on Milan, insisting Inter are “the better team” despite their cousins reaching the Champions League Final.

The Coach was irked by a survey in the ‘Gazzetta dello Sport’ today in which eight pundits said the Rossoneri were a stronger side. Only Giancarlo Antognoni, Zbigniew Boniek and Fabrizio Ravanelli opted for the Scudetto winners.

“Personally I believe that we were better this season,” said Mancini in his Press conference. “Milan have done very well to progress in Europe, but when we have faced off in Serie A, Inter won both matches.

“What was written in the newspapers today was to fill up headline space and create some folklore around the football. Milan are very strong in media terms and can always do what they want.”

This is a continuation of Mancio’s rant against what he called “media prejudice” against Inter, as their record-breaking campaign has been tainted in the Press by the Calciopoli verdicts ruling out their major rivals.

“Whether we also win the Coppa Italia or not, this has been an extraordinary season for Inter in every respect. It was disappointing to go out of the Champions League, but for us it was more important to take the Scudetto.”

The tactician also responded to complaints from Alessandro Del Piero and Clarence Seedorf, who urged the Nerazzurri to stop talking about this as a ‘clean’ title.

“I can say Del Piero is right when he says we must stop talking about the past and focus on the future. However, these things may irritate him, but other events have irritated many others.”

Ancelotti feels Ronaldo loss
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Football Italia

Carlo Ancelotti concedes he must shelve his squad rotation against Fiorentina with the news that Ronaldo will be out for at least a fortnight.

“This injury does irritate me a little,” confessed the Milan Coach. “It’s a shame as he was on good form, now he must sit out some crucial games. I hope he can play again this season, even if he will be out for at least 15 days, as a muscular problem needs time to heal.”

Il Fenomeno pulled up during training with a thigh strain and, although more tests are needed, he will be sidelined for between two and four weeks.

With Paolo Maldini injured and Alberto Gilardino suspended, this means Ancelotti cannot rotate the squad the way he wanted to against Fiorentina on Sunday.

“The tactical system we use without Ronaldo will depend on the individual games and how we want to play. I don’t think we will modify our approach, though.”

Pippo Inzaghi is expected to start, just as he did in the midweek 3-0 Champions League demolition of Manchester United.

“Gennaro Gattuso picked up a knock he has not yet fully recovered from. It’s difficult to get him fit for Sunday, but not impossible. It will be either Ricardo Oliveira or Inzaghi upfront, not both together.”

So Kaka is confirmed in his new position as a support striker with Clarence Seedorf as Trequartista in Serie A as well as Europe.

“Tomorrow’s match is decisive to secure fourth place and the sooner we do that, the better we can prepare for the Final in Athens,” said Ancelotti.

“Fiorentina have had a great season and without the Calciopoli penalty we have more or less the same number of points. They are to consider a remarkable squad with real potential upfront, but after Manchester I saw confidence in my players.”

The Viola are weakened by the absence of Luca Toni, who has not even made the trip to San Siro due to an ankle injury.

“Giampaolo Pazzini is one of the quality youngsters coming through and is proving his worth as a top striker.”

Inevitably, the Rossoneri’s attention is already creeping towards Athens, where they will face Liverpool in a repeat of the 2005 Champions League Final, lost on penalties after leading 3-0.

“In 2005 we arrived at the final stages of the season completely drained, but this year we have improved our fitness levels at the right time,” explained the boss.

“What happened in Istanbul was a unique event, it never happened before and never will again. I don’t just remember the 3-3 result, but also the performance in which Milan dominated for 114 of the 120 minutes.”

Milan have struggled in Serie A though and rivals Inter stoked the fire by pointing out they won both the derbies 4-3 and 2-1.

“So? I’d say it was about time, because if you look at the statistics then in the last few years we had always won. Inter had to get a look in eventually,” smiled Ancelotti.

The official club website joined in by listing the recent record, including three derbies won in 2004-05 between Serie A and the Champions League quarter-finals.

Toni out of AC Milan test
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Football Italia

Fiorentina will travel to San Siro without star striker Luca Toni, but Cesare Prandelli assures his side will take plenty of shots at Milan.

The 2006 Golden Boot winner has been struggling with an ankle problem for some time and was a major doubt to start Sunday’s game, but he has not even made the trip.

Instead Giampaolo Pazzini is again expected to partner Reginaldo and Adrian Mutu in a trident attack.

“We are taking on a great side in a difficult stadium,” noted Coach Prandelli.

“We have worked very hard on a tactical level, but above all I asked my lads to shoot for goal every time they get the slightest opportunity.”

With Nelson Dida looking shaky this season and the Rossoneri tired from their midweek Champions League mauling of Manchester United, Fiorentina hope to take advantage.

“There will probably be a real battle in midfield with a fight for every ball. We need an important and determined performance – I know we have the players with the personality to do that.”

Toni is not the only absentee for Prandelli, as Alessandro Potenza, Tomas Ujfalusi, Marco Donadel and Mario Alberto Santana are also sidelined.

“I will again field Martin Jorgensen as a right-back,” revealed the Coach after the successful experiment in last week’s 1-0 win over Chievo.

“I ask him to make the most of his experience and tactical intelligence.”

Captain Dario Dainelli is a doubt after spending the week in bed with a serious flu that is reported to have seen him lose 3kg. If he fails to recover, then Per Kroldrup will take the central defensive role.

“We must not forget that Milan are in the Final of the Champions League. It was a remarkable achievement and I am happy they answered the criticism that rained down on Italian football.”

Fiorentina squad: Alex, Blasi, Brivio, Dainelli, Di Carmine, Frey, Gamberini, Gobbi, Jorgensen, Kroldrup, Kuzmanovic, Liverani, Lupatelli, Manfredini, Montolivo, Mutu, Pasqual, Pazienza, Pazzini, Reginaldo.

Borriello to be Lucarelli clone?
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Football Italia

Livorno are looking to a future without Cristiano Lucarelli and it’s rumoured they have found his replacement in Milan’s Marco Borriello.

The Amaranto captain has not yet confirmed his departure from the Stadio Picchi, but has made it clear he is on the verge of a summer switch, leaving a gaping hole in the side.

President Aldo Spinelli is already at work on finding a new striker and newspaper ‘Tuttosport’ suggests he has held talks with Milan for benchwarmer Borriello.

The former Under-21 international sat out a ban this season for failing a random drugs test and has not been fielded since his return on March 21.

A 23-year-old tall centre-forward, Borriello would be a young and inexpensive replacement for hitman Lucarelli.

Other options are also on the table, as it’s claimed Livorno are making a bid for Sampdoria’s injury-prone Fabio Bazzani and Avellino’s 28-year-old striker Raffaele Biancolino.

The defence will also be improved with the arrival of Inter’s youngster Marco Andreolli on a loan deal.

Frey fears Kaka encounter
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Football Italia

Sebastien Frey knows he will have a tough time on Sunday, as the Fiorentina goalkeeper comes face to face with world class Kaka.

“We will travel to Milan to face a very concentrated and on form team. I do not expect any gifts from the Rossoneri,” said the Frenchman.

“Ronaldo has been a Fenomeno for many years, while Kaka is among the best in the world right now. He can make the difference and is both talented and capable.”

The former Inter striker is a major doubt for Sunday’s game and could well be out for the rest of the season if the initial diagnosis of a thigh strain is confirmed, though that isn’t making the preparation any easier for Frey.

“Milan have no real second string squad, as they can quite happily put out two competitive starting elevens. Whoever Carlo Ancelotti decides to start, we will be facing champions.”

Nor does the shot-stopper believe there will the Champions League afford any distraction.

“The Rossoneri will want to be concentrated against us so they can maintain their momentum going into the Final.”

Fiorentina are also in good shape, as shown by their tally of 12 points in the last five rounds. However, they record at San Siro is less impressive with eight wins, 17 draws and 41 defeats.

“We have improved throughout the season in terms of team spirit, play and character,” said Frey.

“The 2-2 draw we had with Milan back in December still hurts a little bit, as we conceded the equaliser in the final minute, but we will not focus on the points we dropped.”

The goalkeeper also respects his Rossoneri counterpart, under-fire Brazilian Nelson Dida.

“He went through a difficult time, but he remains one of the best in the world and is getting back on track.”

Fiorentina risk their own distraction for this weekend, as the newspapers are full of talk about Luca Toni’s imminent switch to Bayern Munich.

“These stories do not disturb us much, as we are used to hearing them every day now. Toni is relaxed and happy. He is important in terms of spirit for this side as well as his goals.”

Seedorf's tears of joy
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Football Italia

Clarence Seedorf admits he cried as Milan reached the Champions League Final and demands Inter President Massimo Moratti give them some respect.

“Those were tears of hard work, sweat, anger and joy,” explained the midfielder after the 5-3 aggregate semi-final victory over Manchester United.

“It was also all the emotion we felt as a group having gone through so much in the first few months of this season. Within those tears was seeing everything we have achieved. It was a feeling I just could not contain.”

Seedorf is the only man in Champions League history to have won this competition with three different clubs and is looking forward to the Final against Liverpool on May 23.

“They are a tough side. We respect them, but we also proved on the field what we can do. We will play this game the same way we face every fixture at this level, as each time we gain more experience, not just from the Final we lost in 2005.”

According to the Dutchman, it is experience that stood them apart from Manchester United in that semi-final, overturning a 3-2 first leg defeat with a 3-0 victory.

“Milan give their best when they are up against it. The result isn’t the important thing here, but rather how we got it, and in this case experience was crucial.”

There was one blot on the landscape, as former Inter man Seedorf was angry at comments from the other side of the San Siro.

President Massimo Moratti and Patrick Vieira noted the Rossoneri should not have been in the Champions League after Calciopoli, while Coach Roberto Mancini said he would not be supporting Milan in Europe.

“Moratti should compliment us and be happy for the city of Milan. Inter won the Scudetto and Milan are in the Champions League Final. Now is the time to drop certain comments that help nobody, because there is no point looking back to the past.

“Moratti should enjoy his title as a great winner, but that also means respecting his opponents and all of Italian football.”

AC Milan vs. Udinese brought forward
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Football Italia

In order to best prepare for the Champions League Final, Milan’s Serie A match with Udinese has been brought forward to Saturday May 19.

The fixture for Week 37 had originally been planned for Sunday May 20 – as all the final four rounds of the top flight season are traditionally played simultaneously – but an exception was made in this case.

The Lega Calcio wanted to stick to these rules by bringing the entire round forward, but that was not possible as Inter and Roma play the second leg of the Coppa Italia Final on Thursday May 17.

So only Milan-Udinese has been moved to the Saturday with a 18.00 local time kick-off, 17.00 in the UK.

The Rossoneri will be given an extra day to prepare for the clash in Athens with Liverpool on Wednesday May 23.

Cafu extends AC Milan contract
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Football Italia

Marcos Cafu has put pen to paper on a new contract tying him to Milan until June 30, 2008, announced the club this evening.

The veteran Brazilian had already hinted he was interested in extending his current deal and Vice-President Adriano Galliani suggested in today’s Lega Calcio meeting that negotiations were at an advanced stage.

It is a show of confidence for a player who had been ready to move to Japan in 2003, where he was set to wind down his career.

Born on June 7, 1970, Brazilian full-back Cafu first arrived in the peninsula in 1997 and spent six years in the Roma jersey.

This is his fourth season with the Rossoneri, having won a Scudetto, the European Super Cup and Italian Super Cup.

Contract extensions are also expected very soon for Alessandro Nesta and Coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Season over for Ronaldo?
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Football Italia

Milan’s celebrations took a knock when Ronaldo pulled up with a muscular problem, as he could be out of action for up to a month.

The striker had not suffered any serious injuries since moving to the San Siro in January from Real Madrid.

In the final minutes of Friday’s training session, he pulled up with a thigh problem and the official club website confirms his presence against Fiorentina this Sunday is in real doubt.

However, reports circulating around Italy suggest the truth of the matter could be far more serious and Ronaldo may be sidelined for the rest of the season.

Further tests are needed over the next few days, but if it proves to be a thigh strain rather than a twinge, then Il Fenomeno will be out for several weeks.

It is a heavy blow for the Rossoneri, who reached the Champions League Final this week and are currently third in Serie A.

Ronaldo had scored seven Serie A goals this season and was ineligible for European competition having already appeared for Real Madrid.

This makes it more likely that Ricardo Oliveira will be given space in the League, allowing Alberto Gilardino and Pippo Inzaghi to rest.

Platini: Dear AC Milan...
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Football Italia

UEFA President Michel Platini has sent a letter to Milan to congratulate the club for reaching the Champions League Final.

The Rossoneri will play in their 11th European Cup finale against Liverpool in Athens later this month after having defeated Manchester United in the semi-final with an aggregate 5-3 win.

“We would like to congratulate your club on reaching the Final of the 2006-07 Champions League,” read the letter to Vice-President Adriano Galliani.

“We especially compliment Milan on their outstanding performances during the group stage, as well as the first knock-out round, quarter-finals and semi-finals, and wish your team an equally brilliant performance in the Final itself.

“Your club’s achievement reflects the professional attitude and commitment of your team and the club’s officials and confirms that Milan are a worthy member of the European football elite,” continued Le Roi.

“We should also like to express our sincere gratitude to you, to all of your officials and staff, for the competent and friendly co-operation we have enjoyed with your club throughout the season for all your home matches at San Siro.”

Milan’s participation in this year’s Champions League had been in doubt last summer because of their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal.

UEFA’s emergency panel however ruled in August that the Rossoneri could take part in the preliminaries but had slammed the club, underlining the fact that the six-time European champions were being admitted entry primarily thanks to a legal loophole.

All white on the night
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Football Italia

Milan have opted to wear their white away shirts in the Champions League Final against Liverpool later this month.

The Italian team were drawn by UEFA as the home side which gave them the right to wear their famous black and red shirts.

However, Milan have decided to go for their second strip and allow Liverpool to dress in their red jerseys – just like in Istanbul two years ago.

Milan did consider their white strip a lucky omen priot to their penalty shoot-out loss to the Premiership side in the 2005 finale.

Before then the San Siro giants had won four European Cups in white against Benfica in 1963 and 1990, versus Steaua Bucharest in 1989 and Juventus in 2003.

Berlusconi wants Sheva back
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Football Italia

Milan President Silvio Berlusconi has admitted that he would be happy to welcome Andriy Shevchenko back to the club. “Our doors are always wide open,” he claimed.

The Ukrainian quit the Rossoneri last summer when he joined Chelsea in a £30m deal, but it seems that the former Italian Prime Minister is eyeing a sensational reunion.

“I am very close to Sheva,” said Berlusconi, who is actually a Godfather to the striker’s little boy.

“I know that he has some problems now and I am sorry that he was knocked out of the Champions League this week.

“I also know that he would like to return to Milan. We will see, he knows that the doors are not just ajar, they're wide open,” added the Rossoneri official.

The 30-year-old has had a difficult first season in the Premiership and missed the Champions League semi-final with Liverpool on Tuesday with a groin injury which will require surgery this summer.

Meanwhile, the media mogul also confirmed his trust in goalkeeper Nelson Dida despite his recent alternating form and rumours which claim that Milan want Gigi Buffon of Juventus.

“I obviously like Buffon as he is the best player in Italy,” added the President.

“However, we have renewed Dida’s contract because we are convinced of his true value. His mistakes? They were not howlers, it was just bad luck.”

The under-fire Brazilian was blasted in the Italian media for his errors in the Champions League 3-2 defeat against Manchester United, even if he did little wrong in the return.

Gattuso to put record straight
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Football Italia

Gennaro Gattuso is confident that Milan will get the revenge they are so desperate for in the Champions League Final against Liverpool.

Gattuso almost quit the Rossoneri after the astonishing defeat to the Anfield outfit in the 2005 Istanbul Final when the English side came from 3-0 down to win on penalties.

However, the Italian international was persuaded to remain and he’s eager to take full advantage of his second chance against the Premiership giants.

“This Final will be different – that I promise,” said the former Rangers and Salernitana midfielder. “It is important to put the record straight.”

Gattuso is in optimistic mood ahead of the May 23 clash in Athens after Manchester United were comfortably disposed of in the second leg of the semi-final.

“Liverpool are like an Italian team of 10 years ago,” continued the man affectionately known as Ringhio. “Every ball a long ball…

“United have far more technical players, who are quick and able to do things on the ball. Liverpool do not have those individuals.

“I feel there is a noticeable difference in talent between Manchester United and Liverpool and that we have beaten the better side of the two.

“What Liverpool have is a way of playing as a team. All they try to do is defend together, with everybody behind the ball and just one striker.”

Kaka invites Ronaldo capture
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Football Italia

Milan sensation Kaka has told Man Utd’s Cristiano Ronaldo to come and join him at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

Despite the Portuguese winger’s less than impressive display against the Rossoneri in the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday, Kaka is a massive fan of the midfielder.

“Ronaldo should transfer to Milan and then we could play alongside each other,” the Brazilian told Sky Sports News. “You never know, it could happen.”

Kaka illustrated all of his ability in the two legs over United by scoring three of Milan’s five goals in their aggregate win.

They were performances which underlined why Real Madrid are so keen on signing him, even if the former Sao Paulo playmaker insists he would look to the Premiership should he quit Italy.

“I love the competition and the challenge in England,” added the 2006 World Cup player.

“There are many big teams. Three English sides made the last four of the Champions League, so the challenge is very appealing.

“If one day I was to leave Milan then I would definitely look at an English team.”

Vieira slams AC Milan glory
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Football Italia

Inter midfielder Patrick Vieira doesn’t believe Milan should have taken part in this season’s Champions League.

The Rossoneri reached their eleventh Final after a memorable 3-0 win over Manchester United at the San Siro overturning the first-leg 3-2 deficit.

But the Frenchman claims that they shouldn’t have been allowed to play as a consequence of their part in the Calciopoli scandal.

“I want to pay my compliments to Milan who deserved to reach the Final,” Vieira told Reuters on Thursday.

“However, I still do not understand how they were allowed to play the Champions League after what happened last year.”

The Rossoneri’s presence in the tournament was in doubt after the Calciopoli verdicts stripped them of their second place on the table.

However, UEFA’s emergency panel then decided to admit the San Siro club to the preliminaries, but underlined that they were only slipping through thanks to a legal loophole.

“In any case, they proved their value on the pitch. I don’t want to say they didn’t deserve to reach the Final, they defeated all the sides they faced and that is a fact.

“We are sorry we were not able to do the same, but that belongs to the past. Winning will be next year’s objective,” concluded Vieira.

AC Milan plan Terry swoop
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Football Italia

Reports in England suggest that Milan are lining up a massive bid for Chelsea skipper John Terry.

The Rossoneri are eager to take advantage of the fact that the player is in a contract dispute with the Blues, who have refused to grant him the same £121,000 a week handed out to Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack.

The Sun reports that the London club are unwilling to improve their last offer to the defender, telling him that he can take it or leave it.

According to the English newspaper, Milan have given a top agent the task of negotiating a deal for the England captain and have asked Chelsea to name their price.

“We have been monitoring Terry and his situation with Chelsea and believe he would be an excellent and valuable player for Milan,” stated a senior Milan source.

The player’s contract with Chelsea expires in 2009 and he is now considering his options, after chief executive Peter Kenyon insisted the club could not offer any more than it already had.

Terry is currently valued at £25m, but could be available for a fee of only £10m next summer due to his precarious contract situation.

Barcelona and Inter are also thought to be interested in the player’s services and are expected to join the race to sign him if he were allowed to leave Stamford Bridge.

Benitez wary of AC Milan
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Football Italia

Liverpool Coach Rafael Benitez is aware that the Champions League Final with Milan will be a difficult match. “They are better than two years ago.”

The Rossoneri will travel to Athens on May 23 for the competition’s decider and will be eager to make up for the 2005 tie in Istanbul, when the Reds came back from three goals behind to win on penalties.

“It is clear that we are going to play a team of players with a great attitude and quality,” Benitez told Liverpool’s official website.

“They are desperate to win the Champions League and after what happened two years ago we must be very careful. They are a very dangerous opponent for us,” continued the Spanish tactician.

“They are a team we will show a lot of respect to. I have said many times we are stronger now than we were two years ago, but I also believe Milan are a better side than they were when we last played.

“We must now focus on the Final, the hard work for the players begins now. The match is not today, it is in a few weeks time and we must start our preparation from this moment,” concluded Benitez.

Liverpool will meet Milan for the fifth time and should the Reds prevail at the Olympic Stadium in three weeks’ time, the Anfield side would join the Rossoneri on six successes.

Galliani applauds European stars
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Football Italia

Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani was thrilled after the 3-0 win over Manchester United. “Now let’s enjoy the Final.”

The Rossoneri reached their 10th Champions League Final after overturning the 3-2 first leg defeat, obtaining a memorable victory at the San Siro.

“Let’s enjoy the Final, the eighth one under Silvio Berlusconi’s presidency,” said Galliani after the match.

“It’s a wonderful present made by a marvellous team. I am especially happy because we proved that our many critics were wrong,” continued the former Lega Calcio chief.

“I want to confirm the entire team for next season, even the players who are 38 years-old.

“With people like them you reach the Champions League Final, whereas changing team every year and playing with youngsters you don’t,” he added.

“No one is leaving from Milan and whoever we want to stay will remain. As to Carlo Ancelotti, he has a contract for next year as well, don’t worry.”

Milan secured their third semi-final success in the competition against the English visitors and will meet Liverpool in Athens on May 23 in a repeat of the 2005 Champions League decider in Istanbul.

“Now I’m not thinking about Liverpool. Playing a final is an excellent result, winning it or also losing it like two years ago against Liverpool is very different from being knocked out before like other teams.

“Let’s see if we shall transform the Final into a win,” concluded Galliani.

Berlusconi: Bring on Liverpool
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President Silvio Berlusconi viewed last night’s win as an “emotional moment” and is looking forward to revenge against Liverpool.

“We were all very emotional and celebrating together. Carlo Ancelotti came in to the locker room and was surprisingly moved for such a big fellow!” laughed the Milan patron.

The 3-0 win over Manchester United secured their passage to the Champions League Final 5-3 on aggregate and Berlusconi took the opportunity to jest at the constant media speculation over Ancelotti’s future.

“I said there was defeat in this victory, as I had been prepared to sack the Coach tonight, but instead I had to put up with him for another few years. Of course I joke, we showed our worth tonight and were brilliant on every level.”

The President has often publicly criticised Ancelotti for using a one-striker system, but assured that was not the case yesterday evening.

“Milan played with two strikers. Kaka played about 20 metres higher up the pitch than usual and with 10 goals is the top scorer in the Champions League, so how can he be considered a midfielder? His role behind the forwards was taken ably by Clarence Seedorf.”

The result sets up a repeat of the 2005 Champions League Final, where Milan had been leading 3-0 before losing on penalties at the end of a 3-3 draw.

“All of us feel the need for revenge, as we are still under shock from Istanbul. It is curious and intriguing that after two years our opponents in the Final are again Liverpool.

Some players, including Seedorf, were in tears at the final whistle upon beating Manchester United. Berlusconi linked that reaction with the odd campaign, as the Rossoneri were originally excluded from the Champions League due to the Calciopoli scandal and went through a hastily arranged Preliminary Round.

“When there are great victories earned with convincing and wonderful football, it always has a special place in the players’ hearts.

“There was an extra issue at work tonight, as we have come out of a very difficult season in which we felt we had been done an injustice and on top of that had a series of injuries.

“It was a campaign that never looked like reaching a positive end, and yet with character and talent we fought back to reach the top three in Serie A and the Champions League Final,” continued Berlusconi.

“My motto for Milan is stronger than envy, stronger than misfortune, stronger than injustice.”

Having lost in Istanbul on penalties and seen Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina’s prowess in the shoot-out victory over Chelsea this week, Milan are taking precautions.

“We are practising penalties with all our regular takers, but with the goalkeeper moving towards the net, just as it would be in a match situation, so they learn not to lose concentration.”

The President has always tried to keep a very active role within the club and said he acts as a “father” to the team members.

“I called (Nelson) Dida this week, as he had been criticised by many sections of the Press, and reassured him that the club had total faith in his abilities.

“I also rang Seedorf and told him his job was to do what Kaka usually does – aim for goal and shoot. He followed my advice and admitted afterwards that a good five per cent of the credit for that strike goes to me!”

As a final thought, Berlusconi again reiterated his intention to make a summer bid for the former World and European Player of the Year.

“We are keeping an eye on the situation. If Ronaldinho decides to leave Barcelona and the club releases him, then Milan are first in line.”

Maldini sets sights on Athens
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Football Italia

Paolo Maldini missed the second leg through injury, but is confident of playing in the Champions League Final against Liverpool.

“I am not used to being on the sidelines, so it was painful for me. I knew the team was in good shape and we have proved once again that back in October when we said we’d reach Athens those were not just words,” said the Milan legend.

“Despite all the injuries and various other problems that we have dealt with, we have been brilliant and I am proud to be captain of a team like this.”

Maldini played in the first leg 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford, but went off at half-time with a recurring knee problem.

“I have a similar injury to the one I had last season, so I have every intention of carrying on next term. If we had been eliminated I would’ve undergone surgery immediately, but instead I will do everything I can to be ready for the Final in Athens.”

The clash is against Liverpool, a repeat of the 2005 Final that Milan lost on penalties despite Maldini getting an early goal.

“It will be my eighth Final and after two years we still want to take centre stage. This side is not afraid of anything.”

Sir Alex admires AC Milan
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Football Italia

Sir Alex Ferguson admitted Milan were “good winners” after Manchester United’s 3-0 defeat at San Siro.

"They were sharper and quicker to the ball and I think they've been good winners. We were on the back foot all the time and found it difficult,” he said of the 5-3 aggregate exit in the Champions League semi-final.

"In fairness, we never looked like we were going to score. Milan got their goals cheaply and that's disappointing.”

Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino secured the Rossoneri’s passage to the Final in Athens, where they will play Liverpool.

"Milan were better prepared physically. They've been resting players and that can make a difference."

Kaka: I need to improve
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Football Italia

Ricky Kaka is a candidate for the Ballon d’Or and Champions League top scorer, but assures he’s not reached his peak yet.

“I am not at the top of my game yet. I’m better than last season, but I have many more areas to improve upon,” said the Brazilian.

“A while back I said I preferred to play with two strikers in front of me and all hell broke loose. I need to learn, improve, adapt and figure out the kind of things that forwards do so I can become a more complete player.”

He may be a Trequartista, but Carlo Ancelotti has transformed the former Sao Paolo starlet into a world class support striker.

“It is brilliant to be so close to the goal, but this is what I have to learn, how to make the most of the finish rather than provide the final ball for my teammates.”

Kaka has certainly settled into this new role, as he is the Champions League top scorer with 10 goals in 12 games.

With the Final still to play, he could even reach Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s all-time record of 12 goals in one campaign.

“If I can score a brace in the Final and become all-time top scorer, that would be incredible, but the most important thing is that the team gets to lift the trophy.”

He scored three of Milan’s five goals against Manchester United over two legs in the semi-final, setting up a special clash in Athens on May 23.

“It was a perfect match from Milan. It will be wonderful to face Liverpool again and it feels like a unique opportunity, so we hope this Final will be different.”

This is a repeat of the 2005 Final in Turkey, when Milan were leading 3-0 only to concede three goals in six minutes and eventually lose on penalties.

“It is a great chance to win a match we should have won two years ago. I do not look at it as revenge, but rather an opportunity to make up for that day in Istanbul.”

Ancelotti: We were perfect!
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Carlo Ancelotti has called Milan’s triumph over Manchester United “a dream come true” leading to their third Final in five years.

“I think a first half like that was the dream of all Coaches. It was a perfect performance there and we won the tie in those 45 minutes,” said the Rossoneri boss.

Having lost the first leg 3-2 at Old Trafford, they turned it all around 3-0 at San Siro with goals from Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino.

“Manchester are a strong side, we did well in the first leg and our performance there gave us the confidence to play this way in the second leg.

“To reach the Final was extraordinary, especially in this year when everyone thought we were done for, so imagine how happy we are now.”

The Rossoneri entered the tournament through the Preliminary Round after an appeal against the original Calciopoli verdict putting them out of the competition.

They have beaten the odds to reach the Final in Athens on May 23, which will be a repeat of the 2005 showdown with Liverpool.

“I’ve won a few trophies… It is a fascinating clash and Liverpool are a different side to Manchester. They have less quality, but are physically and temperamentally stronger,” added Ancelotti.

Sir Alex Ferguson shook hands with the Milan boss at the final whistle at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

“Ferguson complimented me, as I think everyone saw Milan played an almost perfect game. We are all extremely happy.”

Milan’s record in the Champions League under Ancelotti has been nothing short of remarkable, as this will be their third Final in five years.

“I think there are teams that are better at Cup competitions. These games are very special in terms of tempo, determination and focus.

“I said beforehand that no team in the world can prepare for this tie like Milan. We manage to create the best conditions to express ourselves on the field.”

Seedorf said after the first leg that the fact Manchester United won 3-2 in stoppages was an advantage for Milan and his Coach agreed.

“Our mentality changed and so did Manchester’s. That goal made a real difference and we built our victory on the way we started the match, taking the upper hand immediately, and that was thanks to the fact we knew we had to win.”

“I believe the key tactically was the great pressure the midfielders put on United. The work Kaka and Gennaro Gattuso did on their players stopped them from getting clean passes through to their forwards, while Andrea Pirlo moved Paul Scholes out of position.

“The push from the two fullbacks also caused a lot of problems, as it made Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo sit deeper.”

The Italians have also improved radically in 2007 after a stuttering start to the campaign, which was partly caused by the fact Milan rushed their players back from summer holidays with just two weeks to prepare for the Preliminary Round.

“The good results we have picked up since Christmas came from the better physical fitness levels of the entire squad. The fact we were able to work hard during the winter break allowed us to prepare for the second half of the season.”

Gilardino was used as a substitute today, but scored the final goal in the 5-3 aggregate victory.

“Gilardino will certainly break through. This is his second year at Milan and he had no previous experience at this level, so he will slowly gain the confidence and good fortune that he did not have in the other games so far.”

Gattuso: We proved everyone wrong
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Football Italia

Gennaro Gattuso is the heart and soul of Milan and said they should be “proud” of their Champions League campaign.

“We are happy, as reaching the Final at the end of a season that started this way is incredible. Not even we thought we could do it!”

The 3-2 first leg defeat at Old Trafford was overturned with a 3-0 victory over Manchester United, setting up a repeat of the 2005 Final against Liverpool.

The Rossoneri were originally kicked out of the competition in the wake of the Calciopoli scandal, but were reinstated through the Preliminary Round after an appeal.

UEFA were upset at the decision and released a note saying they would be keeping a very close eye on Milan’s actions.

“At the end of the day UEFA complimented us for the football we play and that has to fill us with pride. Nobody even bet a Euro on our chances, but we proved our true worth,” added Gattuso.

It has been a remarkable year for the midfielder, who also lifted the World Cup with Italy at Germany 2006.

“This is totally different from the World Cup, as you cannot compare club to the Azzurri shirt. The emotions I felt at the World Cup are beyond anyone’s comprehension.”

Gilardino: I always believed
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Football Italia

Alberto Gilardino has shaken off his poor Champions League reputation with the goal that finally killed off Manchester United.

“I dreamed of this moment and always believed, so it arrived. This was a perfect performance and we were so determined to get to this Final that we all wanted,” said the striker.

He secured the 3-0 scoreline that saw off United 5-3 on aggregate, sending Milan to the Final in Athens on May 23.

“It is very satisfying to score in the semi-final and this will be my first Champions League Final. I hope it goes well!”

The Rossoneri will take on Liverpool once more after the incredible 3-3 result – eventually going to the English side on penalties – in Istanbul in 2005.

“It is a Final, so everything is decided in those 90 minutes. It could be the team play or the individual moment from a single player that tips the balance.”

Gilardino came on as a substitute this evening and will face a battle with Pippo Inzaghi to start in Athens.

“Now that we are there, the important thing is to lift the trophy. The Coach will decide who plays and we have proved throughout that this is a very united group, so we’re all in it together.”

AC Milan 3:0 (5:3 on aggregate) Manchester United - match report
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Football Italia

Scorers: Kaka 11 (Mi), Seedorf 30 (Mi), Gilardino 79 (Mi)

Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino hammered Manchester United 3-0 to set up another Champions League Final against Liverpool!

The Rossoneri knew they had to fight back from a 3-2 first leg defeat at Old Trafford and so went for an attacking line-up with Massimo Oddo and Marek Jankulovski as full-backs and Pippo Inzaghi replacing the disappointing Alberto Gilardino upfront. Paolo Maldini was in the stands, but Gennaro Gattuso recovered from a bruised foot to start. Rio Ferdinand was only fit for the bench, but Nemanja Vidic returned and Patrice Evra was suspended.

Kaka bagged a brace in the first leg and had a chance after 60 seconds when he sprinted past Vidic but his low cross was just past Inzaghi in the driving rain. Moments later Edwin Van der Sar tipped a Clarence Seedorf strike out from under the bar.

Oddo's cross from the right found a too weak volley from Kaka and the Brazilian did a lot better on 11 minutes by giving Milan the lead. Seedorf nodded a searching Andrea Pirlo pass back to the edge of the area where Kaka drilled his low volley into the near bottom corner of the net. This goal consolidated his position as Champions League top scorer with 10 in 12 games and put Milan ahead on goal difference, 3-3 on aggregate.

Van der Sar rushed out to close down Pirlo's pass towards Inzaghi, then a Pirlo shot flashed across the face of goal. A Paul Scholes header looped over as Oddo kept him onside and Nelson Dida smothered a Ryan Giggs effort, as no Manchester United players were ready to pounce on the loose ball.

Vidic slipped inside his own area and gave the ball to Pirlo, then the clearance found Seedorf and he was able to shrug off two defenders to place a perfect low right-foot strike into the same corner as Kaka's goal.

Massimo Ambrosini's sliding tackle stopped Darren Fletcher short and Dida plucked a deflected cross off Cristiano Ronaldo's head. But Milan had a great chance to make it 3-0 before the break, as Oddo's low cross found Inzaghi to drill just wide of the near post.

Gattuso used his strength to shrug Cristiano Ronaldo off the ball on a counter, earning a standing ovation from the San Siro crowd. Wayne Rooney's snapshot felled Nesta and Ronaldo blazed well wide from distance.

Ambrosini won back the ball in midfield on 53 minutes and Kaka again left Vidic eating his dust, but Van der Sar parried the shot a little too far away for Inzaghi to pounce.

A defensive error at the other end sent Cristiano Ronaldo free, but his effort was charged down by Nesta. A Giggs through pass just missed Rooney's foot and Gattuso blocked Ronaldo's free kick.

Van der Sar ran out to clear from Inzaghi, but United were growing in confidence and Fletcher drilled wide of the near post, as he was totally unmarked on the edge of the box.

Rooney managed to turn Nesta but his shot flashed across the face of goal, then the England striker had penalty appeals as he attempted an ambitious overhead kick under pressure from Oddo.

Gilardino came on for Inzaghi as the Rossoneri seemed to tire after an hour of play. Kaka gathered a Seedorf pass and his shot was deflected wide with Van der Sar stranded. From the corner a Seedorf cross was cleared with some difficulty.

The first booking of the game only arrived after 74 minutes for Ambrosini's tackle on Paul Scholes. Gattuso fell awkwardly and appeared to twist his knee, but he was able to continue after treatment. Striker Louis Saha replaced defender O'Shea as Sir Alex Ferguson went for broke.

Milan made it 3-0 moments later with a classic counter-attack. Seedorf's first-time pass sent Gilardino clear on goal and he ran forward for 40 metres to side-foot the ball past a desperate Van der Sar. It was only his second Champions League goal in 10 appearances this season.

Kaka went down with cramp and so Milan put out the ball, but Manchester United did not return the sphere and had a shot on goal. Gattuso was furious and his teammates had to hold him back from attacking Scholes, the Italian earning a booking for his trouble.

Cristiano Ronaldo hacked down Seedorf and was also given a yellow card, which would suspend him from the Final. Gattuso was replaced by Cafu to keep him calm and Kaka made way for Giuseppe Favalli.

Milan: Dida; Oddo, Nesta, Kaladze, Jankulovski; Gattuso (Cafu 84), Pirlo, Ambrosini, Seedorf; Kakà (Favalli 86); Inzaghi (Gilardino 66)

Manchester United: Van Der Sar; O'Shea (Saha 77), Brown, Vidic, Heinze; Fletcher, Scholes, Carrick; C Ronaldo, Giggs; Rooney

Ref: De Bleeckere (Bel)

Leonardo predicts attacking AC Milan
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Football Italia

Former Milan player Leonardo believes the Rossoneri will have an attacking philosophy in Wednesday’s match with Manchester United.

The Diavolo need to win at the San Siro to overturn last week’s 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford and meet Liverpool in the Champions League Final.

“Milan will play the way they want to and that’s to go out and win. It’s not the time to try to manage a result,” said Leonardo to BBC Sport.

“With Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, United have players who can score at any time,” added the ex-Flamengo man.

“Nobody expected 3-2 in the first leg, it was a spectacular game, with spectacular players and spectacular goals.

“When you talk about United and Milan you expect so much because they are big teams. But it’s not every day you see a game like that with five goals.”

Leonardo admitted that he was worried when United took an early lead in the first leg, but Milan proved they have strong players, whose qualities are decisive in such important matches.

“When United scored after five minutes it might have looked like another game like Roma,” said the former striker, referring to the sensational 7-1 win over the Giallorossi.

“But that’s when Milan’s big personalities showed themselves. Players like Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Kaká and Andrea Pirlo showed they are big players in big games.

“Perhaps 2-2 was a more likely result but the third goal in the last minute came about because of a missed ball in midfield and a fast counter-attack, which is what United can do.

“Milan however know how to play in the Champions League, they have the pedigree. They have played in four semi-finals in the last five years, they have won the European title six times.

“When they play in this kind of match, they are in tune with the club’s philosophy and tradition,” concluded Leonardo.

Kaladze ready for Manchester United
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Football Italia

Milan defender Kakha Kaladze is ready for the Champions League tie with Manchester United. “I am fit and eager to play,” he insisted.

Captain Paolo Maldini has not recovered from his knee problem and will not be part of the San Siro showdown, even if he will stay in the pre-match camp with the rest of the side.

“I have worked very hard in the past couple of days,” said Kaladze. “I am fit and ready to play if the Coach needs me – I am ready to face Manchester United.”

The Rossoneri suffered a last-minute defeat at Old Trafford last week, but Kaladze believes this might represent an advantage for the Rossoneri.

“I think the fact that we lost 3-2 is a blessing in disguise. Now we know that we have one aim and that is to win,” explained the defender.

“We know that we will have to take command of the game, to put in a great performance,” continued Kaladze, who won the Champions League with the San Siro outfit in 2003.

“No one thought that we would have arrived at this point of the competition. Yet here we are, and we intend to go to Athens,” concluded the Rossonero.

Milan are in their fourth Champions League semi-final in the last five seasons and hope to meet Liverpool in the Final, in what would be a repeat of the 2005 Istanbul clash which the Reds won.

Brazil leave out Ronaldo
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Football Italia

Brazil boss Carlos Dunga has opted to exclude Milan striker Ronaldo from his squad for the Copa America in June and July in Venezuela.

“I will observe other strikers during the competition,” explained the Coach to Globo TV on Monday.

“We already know what Ronaldo is capable of, he is the type of player you can count on whenever you need,” added the former Fiorentina midfielder.

Ronaldo, who contributed to Brazil’s win in the 1997 and 1999 editions of the Copa America, has yet to play for Brazil since Dunga took over after its World Cup elimination last year.

The former Inter and Real Madrid striker has regained form since his January move from Spain, scoring seven goals in 12 matches, and has played in four World Cups for his country.

The Copa America will be Brazil’s first official tournament with Dunga in command, but the Coach might have to do without some of his regulars, as the competition immediately follows the European season.

Reports in Italy suggest that Ronaldo will not be too disappointed by the exclusion, as it allows him to focus on training in view of the next season with the Rossoneri.

Ancelotti: Maldini is out
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Football Italia

Carlo Ancelotti has named Paolo Maldini in his squad, but announces he will not play the Champions League semi-final with Manchester United.

The veteran defender and captain was a major injury doubt due to a knee problem and had been listed as one of the 23 players for Wednesday’s encounter at San Siro.

“Maldini will stay in the pre-match camp with the rest of the side despite the fact he is not available for tomorrow’s game,” he told ‘Milan Channel’ this evening.

It had been suggested Maldini’s chances of starting the tie were around 20 per cent, so it is not entirely a surprise.

His place in central defence will be taken by either Kakha Kaladze or Daniele Bonera alongside Alessandro Nesta.

Milan must overturn the 3-2 first leg defeat at Old Trafford if they are to reach the Champions League Final in Athens.

Maldini makes Manchester United date
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Football Italia

Paolo Maldini is in Milan’s squad for the Champions League clash with Manchester United, but doubts remain on whether he will play.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti admitted in today’s Press conference that the only player still facing injury concerns was the captain.

He has been included in the list of 23 players named for Wednesday’s semi-final second leg, but it’s reported his chances of actually starting the match stand at just 20 per cent.

Maldini has been struggling with a recurring knee problems for over a year and limped off at half-time in the first leg, which ended 3-2 at Old Trafford.

It is far more likely that Georgian international Kakha Kaladze will play in central defence alongside Alessandro Nesta.

Ancelotti has hinted that Pippo Inzaghi will be the lone forward supported by Kaka and Clarence Seedorf.

Milan squad: Dida, Kalac, Storari; Bonera, Cafu, Favalli, Jankulovski, Kaladze, Maldini, Nesta, Oddo, Serginho, Simic; Ambrosini, Brocchi, Gattuso, Gourcuff, Kakà, Pirlo, Seedorf; Gilardino, Inzaghi, Ricardo Oliveira

Ancelotti: We aren't finished
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Football Italia

Milan Coach Carlo Ancelotti is pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this year’s Champions League semi-finals.

The Rossoneri host Manchester United at the San Siro on Wednesday evening and the tactician is sure his men can do well, despite the 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford last week.

“I am very calm and this is also thanks to the entire squad,” said Ancelotti in the traditional pre-match press conference.

“Everyone said that we were finished, in November they said that this objective was impossible for us to achieve, instead we are here and we are fighting to reach the Final.

“This is a dream come true, the union inside the group allowed us to overcome the difficulties and get to this point,” added the former Milan and Roma midfielder.

Ancelotti confirmed that the only player still in doubt is captain Paolo Maldini, who suffered a recurrence of his knee problem last week and might not be able to play in the second leg.

“The only doubt we still have is Maldini. In any case he knows when he can and can’t play. We will take a decision together. All the other players are available.

“We know United well, they proved their quality in the first leg, but we are convinced we can do well. They are strong in attack and we will have to try to stop them there.”

The winners of Wednesday’s tie will meet either Chelsea or Liverpool in Athens for the Final on May 23.

“We are representing Italian football and we will be looking to do our best because Milan has an Italian heart and I believe we represent Italian football well.

“Michel Platini said that the first leg was a good advert for football and it’s very important for us to improve our sporting culture,” concluded Ancelotti.

Gattuso enjoys European glory
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Football Italia

Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso can’t believe they could reach the Champions League Final after their difficult start to the season.

The Rossoneri were forced to qualify for the Champions League via the preliminary rounds in the summer, disrupting their plans for the start of the campaign.

“Considering all the problems we have had this season, we can truly say that it is almost a miracle that we have come so far,” Gattuso told the club’s official website.

“We had to play in the Champions League qualifiers, we had to change our preparation plans, and those players who were part of Italy’s World Cup-winning side had limited a limited break.

“We have also had many injured players this season, but we have managed to come back despite everything,” added the battling midfielder.

“I am pleased with the opportunity to take another giant step and to do this we need something special, the support of our fans,” said the former Rangers man.

“We will show our pride, passion and experience, but this time our fans will need to do even better than usual. I hope the support of our fans will help us fly to Athens.

“We want to make our club even more prestigious because no-one has played four semi-finals in the last five editions of the Champions League as we have.

“If we manage to overturn last week’s defeat at Old Trafford we will also have the possibility to play our third Final,” concluded Gattuso.

In the meantime, Manchester United have confirmed that injured defensive duo Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have both travelled to Milan, although it is not yet clear whether they will start the tie.

Manchester United fans receive warning
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Football Italia

Manchester United have been warned that there might be trouble in Milan ahead of Wednesday night’s Champions League semi-final.

The Red Devils last two European away matches were marred by crowd trouble against Lille and Roma, when the first leg of the quarter-final was spoiled by clashes both before the game and in the stands.

Last week’s tie with the Rossoneri at Old Trafford was luckily uneventful and United were hopeful that there would be no problems expected at the San Siro.

However, the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association has revealed that some of Roma's ‘Ultras’ might head north to cause trouble.

The report was passed on to the Premiership outfit and the supporters have been advised by the Association on how to behave in order to avoid any clashes.

Supporters should not wear Man Utd colours or even speak English, as the report suggests that many Roma fans are expected to travel to Milan on Wednesday by train.

Manchester had issued a warning before the match at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, but the club’s initiative had caused harsh reactions in Italy and might therefore not be repeated.

The club also feels that it is now too late to inform the 5000 supporters who have tickets for the Stadio Meazza match.

But IMUSA chairman Mark Longden believes that it is vital to inform fans following the Red Devils’ trip to the peninsula.

“All I can say is anyone travelling to the game should be aware,” he declared.

“Everyone knows what happened in Lille and, in particular Rome. If what we have been told is true, it should just make everyone be a bit more careful.”

Milan police chief Gian Valerio Lombardi confirmed on Monday that the sale of alcohol would be prohibited from 7am local time in the area surrounding the Stadium, city centre and Linate airport, in the attempt to avoid any problems.

Oddo sees Rooney threat
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Milan defender Massimo Oddo has admitted that Wayne Rooney worries him more than Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League.

The Rossoneri host Manchester United at the San Siro on Wednesday after the 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford last week and will need to win in order to progress to the Athens Final.

“Ahead of the first leg everybody was talking about Ronaldo, but personally Rooney worried me much more,” explained Oddo to uefa.com.

“He is a quick forward who can score at any time. Last week he was not my direct opponent, but he was the one who worried me the most,” added the former Lazio man.

“Obviously Ronaldo is a fantastic player as well, with his tricks and his ball control at high speed.

“It’s really difficult to face him because he is two-footed, the only secret is to attack him before he attacks you, otherwise it’s almost impossible to stop him.”

Oddo is sure that the Rossoneri supporters will create a unique atmosphere, just like the one they found at Old Trafford last week.

“The Champions League is always Milan’s priority, I understood it immediately when I arrived here,” said the world champion.

“I am sure we will find a great atmosphere at the Stadio Meazza, like the one at Old Trafford but of course with positions reversed. We don’t need to say anything to our fans, they are all prepared,” concluded Oddo.

Ancelotti has Maldini hope
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Football Italia

Milan Coach Carlo Ancelotti hopes captain Paolo Maldini will recover in time for the Champions League tie with Manchester United.

The veteran Rossonero suffered a recurrence of his knee injury in the first leg at Old Trafford and the tactician is aware that the defender’s presence could be decisive.

“I would be glad to be able to field Maldini, his experience is fundamental for us,” said Ancelotti.

“Let’s hope he recovers, we will try until the end. A lot depends on the last training session, in these matches personality and experience count more than the physical condition,” continued the former midfielder.

Ancelotti declared that he is pleased with the way the team is preparing for Wednesday’s match, when he hopes his men will repeat the performance offered in the first half in Manchester.

“We are very serene. We must remain clam and not be eager to score at all costs. We must try to do for the entire match what we did for just an hour at Old Trafford.

“A lot is at stake because we have worked the entire year for this tie. We really want the Final," concluded the Rossoneri Coach.

Milan are aiming to reach their tenth European Cup Final, where they will meet either Chelsea or Liverpool on May 23 in Athens.





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