Milan clubs face derby with a difference
6.5 || Seamus
There are few things in football that Paolo Maldini has not experienced but even the AC Milan captain has to concede that Wednesday's derby with Inter Milan in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final will be a unique occasion.
Counting all competitions it will be the 254th Milan derby meeting but never has the clash been in the spotlight as much as this game and never have the stakes been so high for both clubs.
"It will be a strange event -- a foreign referee, played over two games, 180 minutes rather than 90 minutes in the championship," 34-year-old Maldini, who played in his first derby back in 1985, told website Goalcity.
"We have played them over two-legs before in the Italian Cup of course but I would be lying if I said this wasn't an occasion to savour," added the defender who is his country's most capped player of all time.
The Milan derby has had a vital say in the outcome of several Italian championship races but this time the prize is a place in the May 28th Champions League final in Manchester against either fellow Italians Juventus or defending European champions Real Madrid.
Few would like to bet on the outcome of the two games at the San Siro stadium that both clubs call home but Maldini says with so much at stake total commitment is guaranteed.
"We have to approach Wednesday's game simply as if it was the final itself. It would be unforgivable to play without character in this match but knowing my team mates as I do that is not something I am even willing to consider," he said.
Milan have enjoyed the better of the meetings in recent years and won both derbies in Serie A this season but Inter captain Javier Zanetti, the club's longest serving player, says past form will count for little.
"Everyone has Milan down as favourites but I don't see such a big difference between the two teams. We didn't deserve to lose those games against them this season.
"This time we won't let our fans down though, we will fight from the first minute until the last. I am convinced that you win derbies by heart," said the Argentine.
It is not only form that points towards Milan having the advantage -- while Carlo Ancelotti's side have all their key players available, Inter will be without their top scorer in Serie A this season, burly striker Christian Vieri who is sidelined with a knee injury.
Inter coach Hector Cuper is expected to field fellow Argentine Hernan Crespo in attack along with another south American, Uruguayan Alvaro Recoba.
Cuper's main problem is in midfield where Cristiano Zanetti is suspended and his most likely replacement, Frenchman Stephane Dalmat is not at 100 percent.
Milan have been boosted by the return from injury of midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf although the former is likely to start on the bench.
Ancelotti will have to decide whether to stick with his preferred option of Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi in attack with Rui Costa operating behind them or whether to give space to Brazilians Rivaldo or Serginho.
The pace and dribbling of Serginho has troubled Inter in derby games over the past three seasons and the little winger is likely to feature at some stage in the match.
By Simon Evans
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