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Milan triumph in tight final
30.5 || Seamus

A match to forget? No, not quite. A match to remember? Not exactly. The 2002/03 Champions' League Final was a pressure cooker. Two Italian teams in the final wasn't exactly the best set-up for an attacking display that would please the neutrals. That said, the All-Italian clash between AC Milan and Juventus started out in spectacular fashion. The teams looked primed and ready to attack, throwing caution to the wind. The first half had it all: chances, back-and-forth play, controversy (read Andriy Shevchenko's ruled out goal), and passion. The football world was supposed to be in for a treat.

Unfortunately, the rest of the match never seemed to live up the excitement of the first 45 minutes. Milan started the game in good form. They were winning balls and Shevchenko was a constant menace for the Juve backline. Juventus started slower and this observer was quite surprised at their lack of pressure on Milan's players. It was far from a tight match, Milan were enjoying lots of possession along with the luxury of having time on the ball. Gianluigi Buffon made a world class save of a beautiful diving header by Filippo Inzaghi, and it looked as though Milan would need to produce something special to beat Buffon on this day.

Juventus began to creep back into the match as the half wore on, buoyed by the fact that Milan had yet to score despite their early dominance. It was Juve who looked more likely to score as the first stanza came to a close.

Analysis of the second half and both overtime periods will prove futile. After watching the opening 20 minutes of the second half you had the feeling that penalties were already looming in the minds of the players. There were far too few risks taken as both teams broke into attack sporadically. It was not a complete negative approach by the teams, though it wasn't exactly a positive approach either. The match was still hard-fought, but without the chances and excitement that we were all hoping for. On the one hand lovers of football must have been angered, on the other hand the players gave a glimpse of how bad each side wanted the trophy (even though the negative approach was the wrong way to go about it). A mistake could have been deadly during the second half and overtime and it would have pained many to see one of these teams lose by virtue of a silly mistake.

It would have been tough to pick a better team over the course of those two hours of match play, perhaps Milan by a hair, but only just. There were no clear men of the match either, though Gennaro Gattuso seemed to be everywhere on the night, and Buffon's steadiness gave Juve some extra confidence. The managers tactics or substitutions didn't have much bearing on the match. Marcello Lippi made his three available changes early, however he was forced to as a result of injuries. No substitute changed the course of the match, though Antonio Conte coming on for the ineffective Mauro Camoranesi was justified (it would have been a golden substitution had Conte scored early in the second half when his glancing header hit the crossbar).

After 120 minutes it was still 0-0. It was now on to those wretched penalties. It was high drama, any penalty shoot-out normally is, however you were always going to feel bad for the loser. In a competition of this standard it was surprising to see that these stars contrived to miss 5 out of 10 penalties. There was a sense that Dida moved off his line a bit too quick, however all the saved penalties barring one were poorly struck anyway. Shevchenko extracted a bit of personal revenge by scoring the winner and finally being able to celebrate after being stripped of his goal and joy early on. Milan won their 6th European title, and Juve were left to endure the agony of defeat.

Milan didn't totally deserve to win, neither did Juve. Both teams didn't deserve to lose. It wasn't the most exciting of matches, however it was not a dull match either. It was full of passion, full of drama, even if chances were hard to come by. Milan had a wonderful CL campaign and even if they didn't deserve this particular match 100%, they are worthy champions on the strength of their wonderful European campaign this season. They played some flowing football and beat some very good sides. All in all, a good day for football. And an even better day for Milan and their supporters.

George Tsitsonis





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