Spyin' Kop: The European Cup Final - AC Milan

Posted by raptor on May 15, 2007, 12:36:06 AM

It's becoming a bit of a habit under Rafa Benitez this. Yet another cup final for the reds to look forward to in May and once again it is becoming kings of European football that is up for grabs, AC Milan once again provide the opposition in what promises to be another intriguing contest. Whilst I'm quite sure no-one is expecting a rerun of two years ago, a fascinating night of football awaits the neutral. Most of us of course will be chewing our finger nails inside the OAKA, Olympic Stadium Athens or in a Athens bar cursing Rick Parry. Everyone knows the history of Milan, everyone knows we've only played them once and everyone knows what happened therefore I'll skip the usual Spyin' Kop pre curseries and crack straight on. With thanks to the chaps over at www.acmilan-online.com and also in particular rawk member, Haroon, for some excellent replies.


UEFA Champions League 2006/07



The Final
AC Milan v Liverpool FC
May 23rd, 2007
OAKA Olympic Stadium
Athens, Greece
Kick Off: 21-45


SK; First of all you have the appreciation of every Liverpool fan for ensuring our bitter rivals from Manchester yet again failed in European competition.  Did you have any doubts that you'd qualify after that last minute goal from Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford in the first leg?

Riccardo; Sure I had doubts, but I was confused by the fact that Man Utd felt that 3-2 at home was a good result. Surely we were favourites considering their poor away performances. So, yes, I had doubts, but felt the task was certainly within our reach.

Gaizka; Never. I've always said that 3-2 away loss is a very good result. I know we can always score at home and prevent Man Utd from doing so. Having Gattuso for full 90 minutes was the difference. Being honest, a 3-0 white wash of the League champions was a dream scoreline.

Mike; Not really. If you look back, they only got the chance to score those last 2 goals once Rino and Il Capitano came off the pitch. With Rino back for the return leg, I had no doubts that ManU were going to have a hard time finding space.

Haroon;
I am not an overly optimistic or overly pessimistic fan. I like to be as objective as I can. I must tell you that I had a decent feeling even before the Utd. semi final tie. That doesn't mean that I thought Milan would squash Utd. I felt that we were good enough for a scoring draw and Utd.'s best result could be 3-1 on the night. A narrow defeat for Milan was the likeliest result which I had mentioned. Milan played a wonderful match IMO. Although we did let Utd. get back into the match after than fantastic Kaka brace, it really didn't mean much of a difference even if the first leg had ended 2-2. I've always proclaimed that 2 away goals are golden and the feelings of Slur Alice, Queiroz and the Utd. players told a tale that they had a sigh of relief at the win more than anything else. Obviously it leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you lose in the last minute but in the overall scenario a 2-2 draw and 3-2 loss mean more or less the same as Milan still had to go out for a win in the Holy Shrine of World Football i.e. the Majestic San Siro. I know a 0-0 or 1-1 would be enough with a 2-2 first leg advantage but the 3-2 ensured that Milan would have one clear objective and that was good enough.


SK; How has your league season in Italy gone?


Riccardo; Started off terribly, as I'm sure you know. We feel that we were crucified by the Calciopoli scandal, not because of the 8 point deduction, but because we were unable to attract decent players due to not knowing if we'd be in Champions League. We weren't able to replace Sheva. Then we had major injury concerns. But after Christmas, where we trained in Malta, we turned it around and put some wins together. 4th place is the least that we wanted to achieve, so all in all, I'm satisfied.

Gaizka;
Very promising in the first month of the league, then went sour when we all thought the best we could get was UEFA Cup spot. The arrival of Ronaldo + Oddo and especially the recovery of the defenders played a crucial part of us landing the 4th spot.

Mike;
Unfairly. Fuck Inter

Haroon;
It's been a pretty ordinary Serie A season for Milan to be honest. It was going to be a rough start for Milan in any case (even without Calciopoli) seeing that Italia had won the Coupe de Monde and we had Nesta, Gattuso, Pirlo, Inzaghi and Gilardino in the World Cup winning squad. That meant a short Summer for them and that can really cause problems in fitness due to an awkward Summer camp. A sudden UCL qualifier call meant that the players had to further cut short their short vacation. It was all haphazard. Milan, as a consequence had an extremely poor start with injuries and niggles to quite a few players. We would've been sucked into the quicksand had we not gone for a fresh perspective in Oddo and Ronzilla. I really believe that Milan's surge came back after the arrival of Ronzilla. He started scoring goals, he brought the confidence back in the squad, he brought the smiles back on the faces of the players and fans and he brought back belief. There was a sprightly pro-activeness. At the end of the day, our objective of reaching a 2nd position in the Serie is far off but we have automatic qualification of the UCL which is good enough. However, it goes without saying that it is a poor season irrespective of the 8 point deduction. We just haven't played well through the season.


SK; At the start of the season there were lots of people who thought that perhaps AC Milan shouldn't be participating in the Champions League because of the match fixing scandal to rock Italian football last season. What was your take on this?

Riccardo;
I think the people who think we shouldn't be in this tournament are misinformed or ignorant. People assume, without research, that we were bribing referees to win matches. Not true! I'm no lawyer, but as far as I'm aware we were simply reacting to the system Moggi put in place that
favoured Juventus. In fact, recent evidence is highlighting the fact that Juventus influenced a referee in an important game between Milan and Juve which finished 0-0. I recall several debatable ref decisions in that game. So, we deserved to be here, we've fought our way to the final, just like Liverpool. The only ones who are complaining are the teams we beat.


Gaizka;
It was decided by UEFA that we could play. So we played. The likes of Vieira who complained about it IMO are just sore losers. And we payed our dues as well by playing at the qualification matches. People only started bitching about this after we beat Bayern and got to the semi final.

Mike; NO repeat NO Milan players had anything to do with the scandal, they shouldn't be punished for the idiocy of Juve.

Haroon; People have mostly casually followed the Calciopoli scandal. If you look at the facts and detailed dossier it is a quite perplexing to see the punishment handed out to us. Leonardo Meani is not even a proper Milan official and his alleged couple of calls were not even last season. In fact I fail to understand how we were penalized for last season!  Huh Milan suffered because Adriano Galliani was the president of Lega Calcio and the scandal broke out during his reign! We, the club are paying a price for it as a consequence. The UCL doesn't have anything to do with the Serie A. The Serie A decides who gets to play in the UCL. If you do something wrong in the UCL then you get a punishment in the UCL e.g. Roma's crowd caused trouble a few seasons ago when Frisk was hit with a lighter. They served a stadium ban in the UCL, not the Serie A. Similarly Utd. and Roma fans caused disruption and both clubs were fined by UEFA in the UCL, rather than Lega Calcio and the FA charging their respective clubs. Milan hasn't done anything wrong in the UCL so I fail to see how we should be punished for something that we allegedly did wrong in the Serie A.


SK; Sorry but I have to ask, what was your abiding memory from May 25th 2005?


Riccardo;
Regarding the final in 2005. It's still painful. Seriously, I still go into trances when thinking about that game. Especially since my girlfriend is a Liverpool fan. Most people will tell you they remember Dida's 'mistakes', or Shevchenkos miss (you might call it Dudek's save), or even the penalties, or the offside mistakes etc.. My memory is Sheva's free-kick at the start of the 2nd half which Dudek saved brilliantly. I always feel that if that had gone in then Liverpool would have lost the fight and the comeback would never have happened. But I guess we'll never know.

Gaizka;
6 minute collapse. The most painful loss in my 20 years of supporting Milan and that says something about it.

Mike; 6 minutes of ineptness cost us the Champions League.

Haroon;
Ahhh ... Istanbul.   >:(  Well ... where do I start? When Maldini scored in that final, I felt that maybe this was his night to raise the glorious trophy! Then Crespo scored once and then again! It seemed like a dream but before I go further, I will tell you that I did have some worries about that game as Liverpool had reached their first final in 20 years (ECC / UCL) and that is like a big juicy steak in front of a starved lion. It's a dangerous proposition. When I saw drone of Liverpudlians ranging around 40,000 it was an ominous sign. Milan scored so early that it took away any advantage that Liverpool could have had. We played beautiful football on the night. A bad 20 minute spell cost us massively but it happens in football.

My abiding memory would have to be Crespo's brace that night. A guy on loan and he was on the verge of becoming a Milan legend just like that scoring in Old Trafford and then a brace in the biggest game of his career. It felt bad that we let him go after that season as he had done more than everything to prove that he belonged here.


SK; Have your team improved since we last met in Istanbul? What are your teams great strengths? What are your weaknesses?

Riccardo; It's hard to answer you there. I think we've improved in some areas and regressed in others.

Strengths: Kaka' has improved vastly. He is looking more and more like the best player in the world and he is scoring in his new second striker position. Seedorf has improved as well. Our midfield unit is extremely strong. We hold possession well and Gattuso wins it back. We have bags of experience, This saw us through against Man Utd.

Weakness: Our team has aged. Our team was old 2 years ago and inevitably, it's even older now. The defence is prone to lapses (Man Utd and Bayern both scored late goals against us) We lack any serious pace and our forwards are underperforming to say the least. Also, we tens to be able to play strongly for one half, then we fade away. Our stamina is not great and if it goes to extra-time then I fear we will be second best.

Gaizka; Strike force-wise we are definitely poorer, as much as we hate to admit it, we missed Sheva. But the real difference is the midfields (Kaka and Seedorf) who delivered big when it really matters (vs Bayern and ManU). Weaknesses : we don't have a striker that can at least send a threat to the opponents. Last time around we had Sheva and Crespo. Now any goals from the likes of Gila and Inzaghi (or Oliveira ) are considered a bonus since the midfield has been carrying the load to score. But I will be very happy if I am proved wrong in the final.

Mike; Yes and No. Clarence & Ricky have a great partnership and our back line is pretty much impenetrable as long as we have Sandro and Rino. Weakness....Strikers...

Haroon; a) Our team has lesser stars this time around. No Crespo, Sheva, Cafu and Stam in the starting line-up this time. We have Oddo, Jankulovski, Ambrosini and Inzaghi / Gilardino in their place. It is less of a star-studded team. We are surely much weaker in the striker department. Our midfield is much better while our defence is more or less like last time although I feel that it is perhaps slightly better. Our goalkeeper is much weaker than last time out. Our defence is capable of having a marvellous night and at the same time it is capable of having a very ordinary night riddled with errors.

b) Our team's great strength is strength through adversity. This team has gone through a lot to get to Athens. It takes a lot of courage and mental strength to get here. We were playing so badly at the start of the season that if we had drawn a group of death we would have been out of this competition. This team has played its best SF tie under Ancelotti. Better than the ones we played against Inter (2003), PSV (2005) and Barcelona (2006). This team has never been as united as it has been this season and that says a lot because Milan has always been a very tight-knit unit under Ancelotti with a very positive dressing room atmosphere. Last but not the least is that every player in this team is playing in his best position now where he can be the most productive. It's a balanced defence, balanced midfield and balanced solo striker. That has not been the case for since Ancelotti took over in 2001-2.



SK; What did you think of your decision to once again play the final dressed in white, knowing that every time Liverpool have won the European cup, it has been against a team playing in a white strip?

Riccardo; I'm not superstitious, but Milan are and the white strip is 'lucky' apparently.I can't understand why we seem to want to wear this top. We lost to Ajax in 1995 final and then we lost to you guys wearing this top. So after 2005 it's pretty obvious it's anything but lucky. But with regards to Liverpool beating teams in white. It means nothing to me and I'd be surprised if the Milan
management is even aware of the fact.


Gaizka;
Well, records and superstitions are made to be broken or dispelled sooner or later.

Mike; Tradition is tradition.

Haroon;
Even if a few people didn't know it in 2005, this time everybody knew that Liverpool has always defeated opposition in all-white. I wanted Milan to don the Rossonero jersey this time, not because of the Liverpool statistic but because the lucky charm of winning in white was not there seeing that we have already lost twice in that kit. But giving it a thought made me realize that Milan want to make a statement and that the statement is that knowing Pool and the white kit stat, we want to wear ALL-WHITE to have a shot at making history. It's a big balls attitude not stemming from arrogance but self-belief that it can be done and I absolutely love it.


SK; How much of Liverpool have you seen this season and what did you think?


Riccardo; I've seen a few matches in the Premiership and most of the Champions League Knockout matches. In the Premiership, you seem inconsistent and have lacked any attacking edge. But yet, The Champions League just seems to suit you. Beating Barcelona was a great achievement. I watched both those games and was impressed. The Chelsea match was appalling and only highlighted how strong in defence you are. But we already knew that. Man for man, with the exception of Gerrard, I don't rate your team, but I think Benitez is a fantastic tactician who really makes you guys tick. and we cannot, must not underestimate you again.

Gaizka; Not very impressive. L'pool are good at grinding out result but I'm old fashioned, beauty over result.

Mike;
Not much. Not much, but they must be good if they're in the final.

Haroon;
I've only followed Liverpool in the UCL. The League or any league form of any team for that matter is not a true sign of how good a team is doing in the UCL. Both competitions are miles apart and basing an opinion purely on one competition's form is a fatal mistake. I thought up to the QF stage that Bayern, Liverpool and Chelsea were the best sides away from home in this season's UCL.

Good teams win at home. Great teams win away from home. Teams having good away records along with a solid defence and an excellent midfield always have a good chance to win the UCL. The strikers are a luxury to be honest as the midfield wins you the matches especially in the UCL.

Since the QF, Milan has picked up on the away form by doing really well at the Allianz Arena becoming the first European side to defeat Bayern in the Fussball Arena. Our performance in Old Trafford was a marvellous display IMO.

Bayern went out, Liverpool took Chelsea out and Milan took Utd. out. I thought Liverpool had been really good to literally spank PSV in the Philips Stadion and that was a really masterful performance but then the performance in Stamford Bridge was not a very good one. On another night, Chelsea might have done enough but Liverpool's defence saved the day and stood firm.

The reason I am stressing on away form is because the UCL final is just like an away game if you look at it that way. It's an alien stadium with new conditions and therefore a team that has cojones playing away from home in the UCL does well in finals while a team that is a giant at home but a lamb abroad can invariably suffer due to the inferiority complex syndrome.

Liverpool in my eyes have gotten to this stage deservedly. They were odds on to go far after shocking Barcelona in the Nou Camp. People can blame the style, use excuses of Liverpool being rested more or Liverpool having only one trophy to fight for but at the end of the day when it is all said and done, Liverpool is there. Not even 10% of football fans realize how much UCL DNA, UCL pedigree, UCL tradition and the likes count for clubs like Milan, Liverpool, Real, Bayern and Ajax counts.

When these teams are fairly decent, even a sniff of an opportunity is enough for them. The UCL is a cup competition but winning it is not a lottery. If it was a lottery then the above mentioned clubs would not be forming the top tier and the wins would be quite evenly spread. The competition began in 1955-56 and here we are in 2007. How is it a lottery when 50 years on and the Fantastic Five rule the roost. Hollow reasoning comes from the people whose clubs plonk it in this competition.

Liverpool for me has a fantastic coach, good defence and good midfield. I'm not sold on the strikers (I like Kuyt's work rate a lot) when it comes to goals but as I mentioned, strikers are a luxury in the big picture.



SK; Are your fans making any special plans for the game in Athens, big choreographed banners and the like?


Riccardo;
As far as I know, there are plans for choreography. There always is, But as to whats on it. I don't know yet.

Gaizka; No idea, but I believe the fans who will be coming to the game will prepare some. Afterall, this is a CL final.

Mike; Maybe, but hopefully I'll be a part of it when I go.

Haroon; The Milan tifosi are famous for the choreography world over. The Fossa dei Leoni are not here anymore but the Brigate Rossonere led by Il Barone [Giancarlo Capelli] will be in Athens. There will be ONE big choreography as always accompanied by flags (if they are allowed which I doubt it due to UEFA regulations), scarves and Rossoneri (red - black) colours. The Athens stadium will not allow the choreography to be as graphic as it can be in the San Siro, or any other European stadium which is high but it will do.

This time there will be many more Milan fans in Athens than in Istanbul as this time people want to make up for it as last time people found it financially hard to make the long trip seeing that frequency of Milan reaching the latter stages for almost two decades is astounding. All 17,000 tickets are already gone and more will be taken up in Athens.



SK; Finally would you care to make a prediction for the match?

Riccardo;
Prediction...... Not a chance. I can still taste my foot from 2 years ago.I think it'll be a less open game, maybe 2-1 to someone.

Gaizka;
Milan will win, of course every L'pool fans will differ with me but this is the final and everybody will be rooting for their team, regardless how bad or good the performance this season. In a one-off game when so much is at stake, it's not the better team who will win, but the team who wanted it most.

Mike; 2-1 Milan

Haroon;
It's a difficult one. I don't make predictions when I write match previews. I really think that it is a pure 50-50 match irrespective of what anybody says or feels or thinks. I can tell you with utmost confidence that this match will be Liverpool's toughest UCL / ECC final in their history as they have not faced a tough opposition like Milan before. In the same way this will be Milan's toughest UCL / ECC final in our history as we have not faced a tough opposition like Liverpool before.

You only need to look at Istanbul and see how hard Pool had to fight to win that match and compare it with the other finals. By the same token you have to look at how hard Milan were driven from the driving seat and it was still not enough at the end.

I can tell you a few things that has me a little bit comfortable this time around even though it may not count in the end:

1. Last time Milan had defeated Utd. (League team) twice in two meetings and the third meeting with an English club was in the final. It is very rare that any team from any league can beat clubs from the same league in three consecutive matches in the same competition. That is not the case this time around.

2. Last time Pool was undefeated in the knock-out rounds while Milan had scraped to a final with a telling defeat at the hands of PSV. That is a bad omen if your opposition has not lost in the knock-outs but you have. This time Pool has lost the first leg just like we did making things even Stevens.

3. Milan has always gone on to win a European trophy when we have defeated Bayern except last year which was the first time when we didn't win it. This year we defeated Bayern and maybe lightning will not strike twice.

4. Milan has lost only 2 of the 11 SF we have played. One was in the 50's and the other one was last year to Barcelona. I told you that I had a decent feeling about Milan making the final as the QF stage has been a historically tricky stage for us. I didn't think that we would lose back to back SF in successive seasons when we have such a mind-boggling record in the SF. By the same token I would like to add that Milan has never lost back to back finals in the ECC / UCL. Our last defeat was in 2005. I hope we can win it and maintain that record.

5. Last time we defeated Utd. in the SF was in the 1969 tournament when we lost the first leg and won the second leg at home. Fast forward 20 years and that was the last time Inter won a pure Scudetto on the pitch in record fashion while Milan won the European Champions' Cup spoiling the Inter Scudetto party!  Grin The opportunity it ripe to pull a fast one on Inter and hog all their spotlight once again if we win the European Cup.

6. If Milan loses then Liverpool will equal us on the European trophy count. Leaving aside the re-match angle of 2005, this is big enough motivation as it is. Plus Milan knows that if we win the UCL, then we will become the most celebrated club in WORLD FOOTBALL with 16 International trophies toppling Independiente who are joint leaders with us on 15 currently.

Could we be more motivated? I believe that Milan is fired up for this game big time. I don't know if we will win but I have a good feeling that maybe this is Milan's year after all that has happened to us. It might just be the fairytale story after all we've been through. Not a single Milan fan would have thought that we would be fighting in Athens for Number 7 and now after this long journey we are here against all odds for one more shot at becoming Kings of Europe again. "You can take Milan out of the UCL but you can't take the UCL out of Milan". We are made for this competition.


Quote from: Haroon
We are made for this competition.

As are we!

View Comments | Post Comment

More