Milan prioritise UEFA Cup despite disinterest elsewhere

UEFA Cup favourites AC Milan will hope to put off-field distractions to one side when they face Werder Bremen in the competition's round of 32 on Thursday.
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Updated on Feb 25, 2009 10:19 AM IST
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AFP | By, Paris

UEFA Cup favourites AC Milan will hope to put off-field distractions to one side when they face Werder Bremen in the competition's round of 32 on Thursday.

The Rossoneri conceded a late goal by Brazilian playmaker Diego to draw 1-1 in the first leg in Germany last week, while speculation continues to mount over the future of on-loan midfielder David Beckham, who is desperate to prolong his loan from LA Galaxy beyond its current March 9 finish date.

The seven-time European champions have also been forced to quash rumours claiming the Abu Dhabi United Group, owners of Manchester City, are poised to buy a 40 per cent stake in the club.

Brazilian forwards Kaka and Alexandre Pato both missed Milan's 1-0 win over Cagliari on Sunday through injury and Andrea Pirlo says he is hopeful they will regain fitness for the visit of Thomas Schaap's side.

"Werder are a physical team, but they're a bit slow at the back and players like Kaka and Pato could really help us," the Italian midfielder said.

Aston Villa coach Martin O'Neill has made it plain that the UEFA Cup does not feature highly on his list of priorities by omitting eight first-team players from his squad for the trip to CSKA Moscow.

Villa are embroiled in a domestic tussle for Champions League qualification and a 1-0 defeat at home to Chelsea at the weekend saw them slip from third to fourth in the Premier League table.

O'Neill's side drew 1-1 against CSKA in the first leg of the tie in Birmingham, and the Northern Irishman felt that match was the reason for his players' sluggishness against Chelsea.

"We don't really have the size of squad that Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal can call on. That's not being defeatist - that's just being realistic," he said.

"None of the players mentioned the first leg against CSKA Moscow as an excuse for the Chelsea defeat at the weekend - but I will."

Fellow Premier League outfit Tottenham are another club struggling to compete on multiple fronts, with manager Harry Redknapp fielding a line-up containing several unfamiliar faces in their 2-0 first-leg defeat at Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk.

Despite having to win the second leg by at least two goals to stand any chance of progressing, Redknapp - whose side face Manchester United in the final of the League Cup on Sunday - has vowed to rotate his squad again.

"If someone can tell me how to find a team the Thursday before a cup final then I'd like to know. It's a crazy schedule, six games in 17 days and all big games," he said.

Mega-bucks Manchester City welcome Danish underdogs FC Copenhagen to the City of Manchester stadium after being held to a 2-2 draw in the first leg, and upsets are on the cards right across the draw on Thursday night.

Udinese host Polish league leaders Lech Poznan with the aggregate score 2-2 after the first leg, while fellow Italians Sampdoria take a 1-0 deficit to Ukrainians Metalist Kharkiv.

Dutch giants Ajax put a miserable domestic campaign behind them to win 1-0 in the first leg of their tie at Champions League-chasing Fiorentina, while FC Twente also lead 1-0 going into the home leg of their tie with French title hopefuls Marseille.

Elsewhere, Spanish high-fliers Valencia host Dynamo Kiev after being held to a 1-1 draw in Ukraine in the first leg, while defending champions Zenit St Petersburg have a 2-1 advantage to protect when they travel to Germany to face Stuttgart.

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