Semi-final second leg (First leg: 2-3)
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti is hoping to turn a dream into reality as his side to face Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final second leg.
Earlier in the season, with Milan languishing in Serie A and suffering a league points deduction, Athens looked a long way off. Now, though, the Rossoneri stand third in the table and are one match away from reaching their third final in five years.
“At the start of the season I said that getting to Athens was a Utopian dream,” said Ancelotti.
“But now this dream is becoming a reality. This side showed great unity through the tough times. That has brought them this far and now we’re confident because we’re playing well and we’re close to our objective.”
However, after letting slip a 2-1 advantage courtesy of two strikes from United’s Wayne Rooney, Milan have left themselves with a lot of work to do if they are to fulfil Ancelotti’s dream.
“Their most dangerous attacking player is without doubt Rooney,” added Ancelotti. “But if we concede again it’s not a disaster. We know we can score more than once because we’ve done so twice already.”
Ancelotti is expected to recall Filippo Inzaghi to his starting line-up in an attempt to bolster Milan’s attacking threat. With 36 Champions League goals in 64 appearances, Inzaghi, a player once memorably described by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson as “born offside”, will look to maintain his prolific record in the competition.
Further good news for Milan comes with the return of Gennaro Gattuso from a foot injury, although the hugely experienced Paolo Maldini has failed to recover from his knee problem.
“Getting this far has been a huge achievement,” continued Ancelotti. “We’ve made the cake, now we just need to put the cherry on top.”
With another treble in sight, Ferguson will be equally confident of reaching his second final.
“We’ve developed well this season,” he said. “Success and confidence has helped the process and some players have done exceptionally well in their first season.”
The 65-year-old highlighted Kaká, Gattuso and Maldini for praise but insists his team will not be intimidated by prospect of playing in the San Siro.
The possible comeback from injury of defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic – who both trained on Tuesday – would be a huge boost to a United defence shorn of key players in the first leg. Patrice Evra is suspended for tonight’s game, while Paul Scholes, who missed the 1999 final through suspension, is one booking away from missing the showpiece event again. Such a scenario was described by Ferguson as a “tragedy”.
“This team thrives on the big occasions and tomorrow will be the biggest test yet,” continued Sir Alex.
“You would expect Milan to score at home but our safety net is an emphasis on scoring. Sitting on the edge of the penalty box doesn’t do us any good and it doesn’t do the fans any good. So I think if we’re going to do it, we’ve got to do it our way.”
Dida? Massimo Oddo, Alessandro Nesta, Kakha Kaladze, Marek Jankulovski; Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini; Kaká, Clarence Seedorf? Filippo Inzaghi.
Edwin van der Sar? John O’Shea, Nemanja Vidi?/Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Gabriel Heinze; Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick; Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs; Wayne Rooney.