All set for sequel of Liverpool-Milan drama
Almost two years to the day since their epic 3-3 draw in Istanbul was decided in Liverpool's favour on penalties, the two clubs meet again.sports Updated: May 23, 2007 15:42 IST
Liverpool and AC Milan arrived in the Greek capital on Monday ready to play out the sequel to the most unbelievable European Cup final ever staged.
Almost two years to the day since their epic 3-3 draw in Istanbul was decided in Liverpool's favour on penalties, the two clubs meet again with Milan looking for revenge and Liverpool hoping to lift the European Cup again in far less traumatic circumstances than on penalties after going 3-0 down.
Dirk Kuyt, who hopes to be in Liverpool's attack at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday night, but was with Feyenoord in 2005, summed up most peoples' feeling about the 2005 final when he said: "It was unbelievable.
"At 3-0 all the Milan players looked so happy and thought the game was over. Then something crazy happened.
"It was a miracle, one of the most amazing things that has ever happened on a football pitch ... but I don't think anything like that will ever happen again."
Milan established a 3-0 lead by halftime which Liverpool erased after scoring three goals in a six-minute spell with an hour played.
There were no more goals in normal or extra time and Liverpool triumphed 3-2 on penalties for their most dramatic European Cup success.
Eight of Milan's starting line-up that night are still with the club as are nine of Liverpool's, but unless one side takes an early lead as Milan did in 2005, Wednesday's game is likely to be far less open.
Milan are expected to carry the game to Liverpool with the likes of Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso involved in an intriguing battle for midfield mastery against Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and any number of players that manager Rafael Benitez opts to play there.
Seedorf and Gattuso will be attempting to give the outstanding Kaka as much service as possible so that the Brazilian can prise open the Liverpool defence.
He did it against Liverpool in the 2005 final and against England's new champions Manchester United in this season's semi-finals.
Liverpool will probably be looking to Peter Crouch and Kuyt to get the better of Milan's experienced back line which should include Paolo Maldini, who at 38, will be playing in his eighth European final.
Maldini has been having special treatment on an injured knee, but is likely to start the game.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti told the Italian media last week: "I've already decided on my team except I have to wait and see for Maldini and decide on the striker: Filippo Inzaghi scores more goals than Alberto Gilardino, but his support work is better."
Benitez said Milan posed more of a threat than two years ago as their players were even better in midfield and defence.
"We experienced how good Milan were in the first half in Istanbul, but we are also progressing and we have more experience than we did two years ago."
He considers Milan the favourites after the way they beat United in the semi-final, saying: "I would say they will be more difficult to beat this time. They have more balance, they have good, experienced defenders and are really strong in midfield."
Liverpool's key player is Gerrard who inspired the fightback two years ago and is still the driving force.
If Milan allow Gerrard any time and space in midfield, Liverpool can dominate that crucial area, but Milan know all about Gerrard and will be determined not to allow him the influence he had in 2005.
The unknown factor is what formation Benitez will go for. His main injury concern is Dutch wideman Boudewijn Zenden, who picked up an ankle injury in training last week.
In midfield Benitez could employ Argentine Javier Mascherano or Welshman Craig Bellamy to do contrasting jobs. Spaniard Xabi Alonso is another possibility, as is Australian Harry Kewell, fit after missing most of the season injured.
Liverpool: 25-Pepe Reina; 3-Steve Finnan, 5-Daniel Agger, 23-Jamie Carragher, 6-John-Arne Riise; 8-Steven Gerrard, 20-Javier Mascherano, 14-Xabi Alonso, 32-Boudewijn Zenden; 15-Peter Crouch, 18-Dirk Kuyt
AC Milan: 1-Dida; 44-Massimo Oddo, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 3-Paolo Maldini, 18-Marek Jankulosvski; 8-Gennaro Gattuso, 21-Andrea Pirlo, 23-Massimo Ambrosini, 10-Clarence Seedorf; 22-Kaka, 11-Alberto Gilardino.
Referee: Herbert Fandel, Germany.
First Published: May 22, 2007 10:16 IST