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Pressure on Inter in Milan derby
Simon Evans | April 05, 2005 12:46 IST
It is the derby that neither side wanted but in Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final, first leg between AC Milan and city rivals Inter the pressure is heavily weighted towards Roberto Mancini's side.
Milan, Champions League winners in 2002 after defeating Inter in the semi-finals, are Italian champions and joint leaders in Serie A with Juventus.
For Mancini's Inter, with just two UEFA Cup titles to show for 16 years of heavy financial investment, their entire season will be determined by the tie.
"If things go badly for Milan then they still have the 'scudetto' to play for in a race that will probably go down to the wire," says Inter midfielder Dejan Stankovic.
"For us, going out of the Champions League, which I don't even want to think about, would mean that we have lost everything and are left empty-handed. We have an awful lot to lose," said the Serbian.
If recent form is a guide then Milan will start as clear favourites.
Milan beat Inter 1-0 in February after a goalless derby earlier in the campaign and are unbeaten in their last eight meetings with their rivals, including the semi-final two years ago which Milan won on the away goals rule.
Inter's last victory was in March 2002 when a Christian Vieri goal gave them a 1-0 victory but that win did little to heal the wounds of the humiliating 6-0 defeat they suffered at home a year earlier.
"If you look at the facts then Milan are certainly the favourites," said Stankovic.
"They are playing well, they are top of the table, they won the last derby and this season we haven't managed a goal against them. But that all gives us extra motivation to change things around," he said.
The concept of home and away games is often dismissed for a derby which takes place at the San Siro stadium, shared by the two clubs, but there is no doubt that Milan will enjoy home advantage on Wednesday.
Inter fans will have just one end of the 80,000 capacity venue with the huge majority of the crowd backing Carlo Ancelotti's side.
Milan also have the boost of European Footballer of the Year Andriy Shevchenko's return to fitness after more than a month on the sidelines with a broken cheekbone.
The Ukrainian, in his sixth season at Milan, has scored 11 goals against Inter including the decisive strike in the semi-final in 2003.
Shevchenko was unable to make his return on Saturday after all Italian games were postponed due to the Pope's illness and eventual death but he could partner Argentine Hernan Crespo from the start on Wednesday.
Inter, though, will be without their main attacking threat as Brazilian Adriano is still recovering from a knee injury, although he is hopeful of being back in time for the second leg on April 12.
With Christian Vieri short of match fitness, Mancini will start with Argentine Julio Ricardo Cruz up front, either on his own or alongside Nigerian Obafemi Martins.