Thursday, May 24, 2007

MILAN - NEW EUROPEAN CHAMPS


ATHENS, May 23, 2007 (AFP) - AC Milan were crowned European champions for the seventh time after they edged Liverpool 2-1 in the Champions League final here on Wednesday, taking their revenge for their heartbreaking defeat to the Merseysiders in the 2005 final.

Filippo Inzaghi scored both Milan goals - the first coming off his shoulder after he was struck by Andrea Pirlo's free-kick just before half time - before he netted a second in the 82nd minute after being put through superbly by Kaka.

Dirk Kuyt pulled one back for Liverpool a minute from time with a close range header, but Milan held on to lift the trophy.

Two years ago in Istanbul Milan stormed into a 3-0 half-time lead only to allow Liverpool to draw level within a six-minute second half spell, before losing to the Premiership side on penalties.

But this time there was less drama and no Liverpool heroics as Milan atoned themselves for the worst night in their history.

However, for Milan's hardman midfielder Gennaro Gattuso it was revenge personified

"The defeat in Istanbul will stay with me for the rest of my life," said Gattuso, who briefly had a spell with Scottish giants Rangers.

"But today it's Liverpool who are crying, just like we did two years ago," added the non-comprising World Cup winning midfielder.

For Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, who had a great chance to level with 30 minutes remaining but saw Dida smother it, the better team had won.

"I'll have to go back and see the video but to my mind the better side won," said the England international.

"We controlled the game in the first-half but let it drift away in the second.

"They (AC Milan) are a top side and we have to take stock and come back again which we will do again next year."

The Olympic Stadium in Athens, which was modernised in 2002 for the Olympic Games two years later, has proved a lucky venue for Milan as they also won the 1994 Champions League final here, beating Barcelona 4-0.

Milan captain Paolo Maldini, whose season has been plagued by a left knee injury was passed fit to play, enabling him to equal former Real Madrid midfielder Francisco Gento's record of eight European Cup final appearances.


Inzaghi was preferred to Alberto Gilardino to play as a lone striker for the Serie A side. Behind him to offer support were attacking midfielders Kaka, the competition's leading scorer with 10 goals, and Dutchman Clarence Seedorf.

Gerrard, whose goal sparked his side's comeback in Istanbul, was deployed in an advanced role just behind lone striker Kuyt. Javier Mascherano was paired with Xabi Alonsi in midfield to help counter the threat of Kaka.

Bolo Zenden recovered from an ankle injury to line up on Liverpool's left flank.

Twelve players in the 22 to take the field for the start began the match in Istanbul, seven for Milan and five for Liverpool.

Liverpool came close to taking the lead in the 10 minute after Czech defender Marek Jankulovski lost possession to Pennant. The marauding Liverpool midfielder's one-two with Gerrard left him in a wider position than he would have liked, and his angled shot was saved by Dida's outstretched hand.

Pirlo's through-ball just crept beyond Inzaghi as Milan countered before Kaka's shot was comfortably gathered by Pepe Reina, Liverpool's hero in the semi-final penalty shoot-out against Chelsea.

The momentum swung back Liverpool's way with Gerrard firing over the bar and Alonso screwing a shot wide from the edge of the box.

With Milan being squeezed out in midfield, Liverpool continued to Milan to dominate, John Arne Riise's drive clearing the bar before Kuyt's effort was blocked.

Milan's frustration grew and Gattuso was booked in the 40th minute for bringing down Alonso.

Totally against the run of play, Milan made the breakthrough just before the break.

Alonso's clumsy foul on Kaka resulted in a free-kick 20 yards from goal, and Pirlo's shot hit Inzaghi's shoulder to divert the ball away from Reina's grasp.

Jankulovski and Mascherano joined Gattuso in referee Herbert Fandel's notebook before Zenden made way for Harry Kewell.

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher was the fourth player to be yellow-carded as the game became more fractious,

Gerrard should have equalised in the 62nd minute after Gattuso had given the ball away, but the Liverpool skipper's shot lacked power and accuracy and Dida was able to make a straightforward save.

With 13 minutes to go, Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez brought on Peter Crouch for Mascherano, hoping to benefit from the giant striker's aerial presence.

Inzaghi pounced again eight minutes from time, running onto Kaka's sublime pass before rounding Reina and slotting home from a tight angle.

Kuyt's header gave Liverpool hope, but Milan clung on to banish those dark memories of Istanbul.

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