Inzaghi double leads Milan to European Cup win | sports | Hindustan Times
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Inzaghi double leads Milan to European Cup win

sports Updated: May 24, 2007 12:54 IST
Mike Collett
Mike Collett
Reuters
European Cup

AC Milan beat Liverpool 2-1 with two goals from Filippo Inzaghi to win the European Cup for the seventh time on Wednesday and avenge their defeat on penalties by the English team in the final two years ago.

Liverpool, who looked down and out, pulled a goal back in the 89th minute with a Dirk Kuyt header but could not repeat their famous Istanbul fight-back when they recovered from 3-0 down at halftime to force a 3-3 draw and win the trophy.

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti, who has now guided Milan to two victories as coach after winning the European Cup with them as a player, said: "This is the greatest victory we have ever had.

"Few people thought we could do it and I think it is an extraordinary thing. It has been described as a Utopia and it shows that sometimes Utopia can become real."

The Italians took the lead against the run of play just before halftime when Inzaghi got in the way of Andrea Pirlo's free kick to divert the ball past helpless keeper Pepe Reina.

He added the second in the 82nd minute when he rounded Reina and squeezed the ball home under his body after being played in by Kaka. It was his 42nd goal in 69 Champions League appearances.

Dutchman Kuyt gave Liverpool some hope just before the end with a powerful header into the net after Daniel Agger had headed the ball across the area from a corner.

Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez said: "We almost controlled everything, we were nearly there. We had chances in the first half but you need to take your chances and score goals.

"We controlled the game for most of the first half and it was a bad goal to concede
-- a deflection at the end of the half. We were doing well until then."

Still beautiful

Despite Liverpool having had more of the ball and more goal attempts, it was Milan's fans celebrating loudest after seeing their 38-year-old captain Paulo Maldini lift the trophy.

It was the defender's record-equalling eighth final and the fifth European Cup success of his career.

"The fifth is still beautiful," Maldini told reporters. "It would be a great way end to my career but I want to play next season and then it would be very beautiful to reach this point again next year and win it again.

"It was a very tough match but we won it and after what happened two years ago this is what matters."

Liverpool settled down first on a humid night in the Greek capital and played the better football for long periods in the Olympic Stadium but despite their domination they could not find the target until just before the end.

Their disappointed captain Steven Gerrard told Sky television: "It's difficult to take but that's football for you. You've got to take it on the chin and move on and try and pick yourself up but it's heartbreaking."

Milan, desperate to avenge what happened two years ago, needed a stroke of luck to break the deadlock.

That gave them greater stability and confidence for the second half and with Maldini belying his years with an impressive performance and Alessandro Nesta also playing well at the back they rarely looked seriously troubled.

Their victory not only helps ease the pain of Istanbul but it also completes an astonishing comeback for the club punished for their role in last year's Italian match-fixing scandal.

They were only allowed to compete in the Champions League after UEFA reluctantly decided they had no legal grounds to ban them.

Controlled attempt

Liverpool's Jermaine Pennant, John-Arne Riise and Xabi Alonso, the best midfielder in the match, all had good chances to score in the first half and Gerrard should have equalised after 63 minutes.

He seized on a wayward ball by Gennaro Gattuso and powered past some desperate defending but then hit his shot too close to Dida without enough power and the Brazilian saved comfortably down low to his left.

But Gerrard, playing in a less familiar role alongside Kuyt in attack, did not threaten again and Liverpool's raids looked increasingly blunt until striker Peter Crouch came off the bench with 12 minutes to play.

As a result Milan were content to soak up the pressure and grew in confidence as the game moved into its closing stages.

The Merseysiders did finally breach the Milan defence late in the game but the Italians held on for a narrow victory and in the end it was 33-year-old striker Inzaghi who was their hero.

He justified Ancelotti's faith in picking him ahead of Alberto Gilardino and his personal joy was obvious, especially after injury had forced him out of the final two years ago.