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Milan take on Barcelona, Gunners meet Villarreal

Coach Carlo Ancelotti says he knows everything about Barca, his team's opponent in the semifinals of the Champions League.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2006 10:59 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press

AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti says he knows everything about FC Barcelona, his team's opponent in the semifinals of the Champions League.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is just happy to be playing Villarreal this late in the tournament.

Six-time champion Milan hosts 1992 winners Barcelona in the first leg of the semifinals on Tuesday, and Arsenal hosts Villarreal on Wednesday.

The second legs are scheduled for April 25 and 26, with the final in Paris on May 17.

"We know everything of Barcelona, the strength and the few weak points," Ancelotti said.

"Barcelona have no secrets. It's a team used to attacking, and defense is their least congenial sector ... we must have the strength and the determination to command play."

Barcelona will have Ronaldinho and midfielder Thiago Motta back from injury when they attempt to reach the final for the first time since 1994— when they lost to AC Milan. Henrik Larsson and Lionel Messi are injured and Deco is suspended.

"This is a decisive moment, especially in the Champions League because if you don't get to the final, everything else you've done throughout the year doesn't count for anything," Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes said.

AC Milan, who won their sixth European Cup title in 2003, virtually secured second place in the Serie A and automatic qualification for the next Champions League with a 1-0 win over Inter Milan on Friday.

Barcelonaare on target to repeat as Spanish league champion.

"Barcelona is a strong team, we are aware of this, but we are not afraid," Milan defender Kakha Kaladze said.

"This victory in the derby has boosted our determination and morale ahead of the Champions match."

The main worry for Milan is Filippo Inzaghi's health. The striker sat out the Inter match with what was described as a fever and missed training on Saturday.

Inzaghi's clutch performances are a big reason why Milan reached the semifinals. He has scored four goals in five games, including an 88th-minute winner that helped Milan beat Lyon in the quarterfinals.

In the previous round, he scored twice against Bayern Munich in the second leg.

Veterans Cafu and captain Paolo Maldini are back from injury and both played against Inter.

Wenger is excited to be in the semifinals after losing in the round-of-16 last year. The Gunners also lost to Chelsea in the quarterfinals the season before.

"We fought for eight years to be where we are now," Wenger said. "It justifies what I said for years. You just he there every year and one year it goes for you. It is difficult to get to where we are now."

Winning the Champions League might be the only way for Arsenal to qualify for next season's competition— emulating 2005 champion Liverpool.

Arsenalare in fifth place in the English Premier League, one spot below where they need to finish to qualify.

While inconsistent in England, Arsenal's young backline— cobbled together because of injuries to Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole— has surprised in Europe by eclipsing Milan's record of eight consecutive shutouts.

"We know we have the capability to get to the final in Paris, but we have to take care," said Mathieu Flamini, who switched from right midfield to left back in February. "Villarreal are like us, they play in a similar way."

Uruguay forward Diego Forlan and Argentina midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme are the key players for Villarreal. Manuel Pellegrini, a Chilean, is the coach.

"We face more South American football than Spanish football," Wenger said. "We have to dictate an English pace to this game ... but without being caught on the breaks. It will be very important for us to create chances."

Villarreal have eliminated Everton, Manchester United, Rangers and Inter Milan in their first season in the Champions League.

The Spanish team first qualified for the top division in Spain in 1998. Two years ago, the "Yellow Submarines" reached the semifinals of UEFA Cup in their debut. Last year, Villarreal reached the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup.

"It seems like a dream, of course," said Pellegrini, who guided the club to the Champions League in his first season. "This is a very small town and normally you wouldn't suppose we are on the brink of the Champions League final."

Villarreal lost to Barcelona 1-0 in the Spanish league on Friday. While both sides rested players, Villarreal sustained injuries to defenders Gonzalo Rodriguez and Juan Manuel Pena that make them doubtful for Wednesday.

Also, Mariano Barbosa will be playing in place of regular goalkeeper Sebastian Viera, who is suspended.

First Published: Apr 17, 2006 10:59 IST