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Milan join the high society
30.11 || Seamus

How much is a winning UEFA Champions League goal worth, especially one against the reigning European champions? The answer is an informal lunch with the Ukrainian president and the Italian prime minister.

Surprise call
Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko, scorer of AC Milan's winning goal against Real Madrid CF at the San Siro on Tuesday night, was in Rome on Wednesday morning with his girlfriend, Kristen, when his mobile phone rang. On the line was the secretary of Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who just happened to be in Rome on an official visit.

Exalted company
Would Mr Shevchenko like to come to lunch with the president and Silvio Berlusconi? Of course he would, out of deference not just to his state president but also to the man who rules Italy and owns Milan, prime minister Berlusconi. Shevchenko's goal and Milan's victory, coming as they did just three days after an impressive 1-0 derby win against Internazionale FC, have left Milan fans dreaming that the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s are back.
It's true we've just beaten the reigning European champions but that means nothing
Carlo Ancelotti

'We're doing well'
However, the man at the centre of the Milan success story, coach Carlo Ancelotti, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. "It's true we've just beaten the reigning European champions but that means nothing," he said. "All I would say is that we're following our path and we're doing well. Whether we're a better team than Madrid, Manchester United [FC], [FC] Barcelona, Juventus [FC] or Arsenal [FC] doesn't interest me a bit."
1989 remains the benchmark for Berlusconi and most Milan fans

Successful combinations
Ancelotti can take credit for the excellent form shown by joint Serie A leaders Milan. Prior to this season, not many would have predicted he would be able to successfully combine the talents of Brazilian Rivaldo, Dutchman Clarence Seedorf, Portugal's Rui Costa, Filippo Inzaghi, Shevchenko and Andrea Pirlo.

Strategic selection
By making ample use of "turnover", by the strategic use of midfield ball-winners such as Massimo Ambrosini (against Madrid) and Gennaro Gattuso to provide cover for Pirlo, Rivaldo and Rui Costa, Ancelotti has defied his media image of a "dour 4-4-2" specialist. The man who, while coach at Parma AC, offloaded Gianfranco Zola (to Chelsea FC) and declined to have Roberto Baggio in his squad has devised a 4-3-2-1 lineup which affords maximum space to his talented playmakers.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti has revitalised Milan

European destiny
Milan are winners, as their track record of 16 Serie A titles and five European Champion Clubs' Cups demonstrates. Following a grey period in the late 1990s, Berlusconi has aimed to guide his favourite team back to the top of the international tree and to do so in style. So far, as evidenced not just by the wins against Madrid and Inter but also by earlier successes against FC Bayern München and RC Deportivo La Coruņa, Ancelotti's team has answered the call magnificently.

Sacchi impressed
The Milan of 15 years ago, the side that featured Dutchmen Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard as well as Ancelotti himself, remains the benchmark for Berlusconi. 'Maestro' Arrigo Sacchi, the coach of that team, was so impressed with Milan's second-half performance against Madrid this week that he ranked it higher than a famous evening when his side dealt out a merciless 5-0 thrashing to Madrid in a European Cup tie in April 1989.

Ongoing struggle
Ancelotti has been grateful this week for all the praise heaped on him but, typically, remains level-headed. "I'm pleased to receive so many compliments but I would like to remind people that Milan have won nothing yet. The road ahead is long, very long."

By Paddy Agnew

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