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Milan gripped by derby fever
6.5 || Seamus

With a place in Europe's most prestigious final at stake, it's no wonder the Champions League semi-final between arch city rivals Inter and AC Milan is being billed as the mother of all derbies.

AC Milan play host in Wednesday's first leg at their shared San Siro stadium, while Inter will be the home team in the second leg the following Tuesday.

The winner of the tie will meet either Italian rivals Juventus or holders Real Madrid in the final at Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium.

Milan's Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, who is expected to play some part having made a swift recovery from knee ligament damage, said the game is keeping him awake at nights.

"Everyone lives for moments like this. I can't sleep," said the player who was signed from Inter.

"These are great times. It will be an unforgettable semi-final and hopefully it will end in victory for us."

Seedorf said he was expecting an open game rather than a midfield scrap, even with plenty riding on the outcome.

"I don't think it will be a midfield battle, in the previous derbies it didn't happen," said the former Real Madrid star.

"(Inter coach Hector) Cuper could make some changes, but I don't think he will give up on his 4-4-2 formation.

"Against Inter we have always broken down the flanks and taken advantage of the space they have allowed us."

Inter's Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Recoba is equally excited about the tie, which could have sold the San Siro out five times over.

"Few people have the chance to playing a derby with a Champions League final at stake," he said.

"We are aware of how important these two matches are. You can't top playing in these matches."

Recoba believes Milan start as slight favourites because of their form in earlier rounds, but was upbeat about Inter's chances.

"Perhaps they are favourites, and I say that because Milan reached the semi-finals by playing a bit better than us," he said.

"But in the derby that counts for nothing. When the referee blows the whistle everything is even. Then we will see who wins."

Milan's central defender Alessandro Nesta, who has played a pivotal role in helping his side reach the last four, says the two-legged derby is the highlight of his career so far.

"Many of the players, including me, have never reached this stage before and we will give 100 per cent effort to reach the final," said the Italy international.

"This is a new experience for me and I'm loving every minute of it.

"Playing Inter is always tense. This is a massive, massive game for both sides."

Inter are without leading goalscorer Christian Vieri after the Italy international damaged ligaments in his right knee in the quarter-final against Valencia, while combative midfielder Cristiano Zanetti is suspended.

AC Milan's midfield will be weakened by the loss of Massimo Ambrosini, who like Zanetti is serving a one-match suspension.

Milan's legendary defender Franco Baresi believes the contest could be decided in Wednesday's first leg.

"The first match is vital and Milan must make sure not to concede a goal," he said.

"Even a 1-0 win could be enough. That's not to say they should play with fear, but they have to keep things tight."

With Juventus three points from clinching the Italian title with three games to go, almost everything hinges on the San Siro clashes for the two Milan clubs.

Milan however could take some consolation from the lightly-regarded Italian Cup having booked their place in the final where they will meet AS Roma.

Both Milan teams are virtually guaranteed of playing in next season's Champions League through their league positions.





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