Munich wary of Milan's form
AC Milan have an away goal to fall back on when they host Bayern Munich at the San Siro on Wednesday.india Updated: Mar 07, 2006 11:08 IST
AC Milan, experts at making home advantage count, have an away goal to fall back on when they host Bayern Munich at the San Siro in Wednesday's Champions League showdown.
Andriy Shevchenko's second-half penalty cancelled out Michael Ballack's opener to leave the tie all-square at 1-1 going into the second leg of the first knockout round.
Ominously for Bayern, Milan have hit form at the right time.
Last weekend, while the German champions slumped to their first home league defeat of the season, a 2-1 loss to Hamburg, their Italian rivals racked up their fifth consecutive Serie A win by beating Empoli 3-0.
Just as they did at this stage of last season's competition, when they produced 1-0 wins home and away to dispatch Manchester United, Milan are hitting top gear.
The six-times European champions last suffered a home defeat in the Champions League in December 2003— a 2-1 loss to group stage opponents Celta Vigo.
Having struggled to cope with injuries to Paolo Maldini and Cafu in the early part of the season, Milan's new-look back four of Jaap Stam, Alessandro Nesta, Kakhaber Kaladze and Serginho are playing with increasing assurance.
The return to form of striker Filippo Inzaghi after a long injury layoff has been a key factor in Milan's improvement.
The 32-year-old has scored seven goals in his last five games, including a brace in a 3-0 win over Empoli, to challenge Alberto Gilardino for the second striker's place alongside Andriy Shevchenko.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti appears to be leaning towards picking the younger player in his starting 11, with Inzaghi on the bench.
"The important thing is to know who can be the most useful throughout the match," Ancelotti was quoted as saying in La Gazzetta dello Sport on Monday.
"Pippo (Inzaghi) is the kind of player who doesn't need much time to find his feet in a match."
Milan's only worry is the absence of combative midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, who is suspended and likely to be replaced by Johann Vogel.
Bayern could also be without a couple of first-team regulars. French defender Bixente Lizarazu, suffering from a sore thigh muscle, and Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero, who is fighting a bout of influenza, are both doubtful starters.
Despite their weekend defeat, however, the Bavarians insist they are confident of qualifying.
"We can make it but we will have to be patient," said Dutch striker Roy Makaay. "We need to score but we nearly always do. Taking risks from the kickoff is not the right option. Even a late goal will do."
Goalkeeper and captain Oliver Kahn is sure Bayern will go through. "I am absolutely certain we will qualify," he said.
AC Milan: 1-Dida; 31-Jaap Stam, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 4-Kakhaber Kaladze, 27-Serginho; 14-Johann Vogel, 21-Andrea Pirlo, 20-Clarence Seedorf; 22-Kaka; 7-Andriy Shevchenko, 11-Alberto Gilardino.
Bayern Munich: 1-Oliver Kahn; 2-Willy Sagnol, 3-Lucio, 25-Valerien Ismael, 21-Philipp Lahm; 6-Martin Demichelis, 26-Sebastian Deisler, 11-Ze Roberto, 13-Michael Ballack; 14-Claudio Pizarro; 10-Roy Makaay.
Referee: Valentin Ivanov (Russia)