No-frills AC Milan keep cruising
13.12 || Seamus
With all eyes on Real Madrid and their flamboyant strikers, AC Milan are showing that tight defence can be the key to Champions League success and are already dreaming of ending a frustrating wait for Italian clubs.
While Real, billed as top favourites with the fire power of Ronaldo, Raul and company, are stuck at the bottom of Group C with just one point from two games, AC Milan lead the group on six points and look ideally placed to reach the quarter-finals.
"This is a big step forward," coach Carlo Ancelotti said after his team's 1-0 win at Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. "I like the position we're in."
Not since Juventus in 1996 has an Italian side triumphed in European club soccer's premier event but AC Milan now have to be listed among the most serious contenders.
It has been a great week for the five-times European champions, who beat AS Roma 1-0 on Saturday to recapture the lead in Serie A before travelling to Germany.
In both matches, the match winner was Filippo Inzaghi, whose return to form is a great boost for the Italian club.
"He is a man for important goals and he has often been decisive, especially in Europe," Ancelotti said of his striker, who has now scored nine goals in the current campaign.
Flamboyant attacking moves were not Milan's recipe for victory and Inzaghi hardly threatened until he latched onto a fine Clarence Seedorf pass to hit the winner from close range on 49 minutes.
Ancelotti's men produced a scintillating display to tame Real 1-0 in their opening Group C match but against Dortmund, on a frozen pitch not ideal for anything fancy, they concentrated on defending while waiting for counter-attacking opportunities.
Few materialised, but one was enough to seal the game.
"I can only remember one chance for them and that was the goal," said Dortmund's Germany midfielder Sebastian Kehl.
But Ancelotti was not complaining.
"We played well in our own half and our defence was excellent," he said. "I thought it was a good game from us."
Keen to avoid a repeat of a 4-0 thrashing by the same opponents on their last visit to Dortmund, in the first leg of their UEFA Cup semi-final in April, Milan relied on a water-tight back four with commanding performances from seasoned defenders Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta.
The midfielders, and notably a tireless Seedorf, also played their part by making sure Dortmund's brilliant Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky never had enough space to show his skills.
Inzaghi did the rest in what will not go down in history as a classic but was reminiscent of the merciless, efficiency-first shows that made AC Milan such an intimidating force in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"They are one of the top sides in Europe at the moment, there's no doubt about that," said Dortmund coach Matthias Sammer, who slammed his team for being too passive.
With Rivaldo, who has just recovered from injury, coming on only as a late substitute, Milan did not bother to shine but did just enough to win -- a formula that could take them far in the competition, if not all the way.
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