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Glamour tie kicks off Champions semis
April 18, 2006 15:24 IST
AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti says Tuesday's Champions League semi-final against Barcelona has arrived at the right moment for his team.
The Easter weekend results allowed Milan to close the gap on Serie A leaders Juventus to just five points with four games remaining. Milan beat city rivals Inter 1-0 in Friday's derby and on Saturday Juve were held 1-1 at lowly Cagliari.
"This is a good moment. The team are in good shape physically, I've got the whole squad available and at their best for what will be a huge challenge for us. On top of that the whole club seems to be in perfect shape," he said.
Brazilian wide-man Serginho and back-up midfielder Massimo Ambrosini are expected to be fit for tie's first leg after taking no part in the derby.
Striker Filippo Inzaghi has been ruled out of the semi-final first due to a high temperature.
Inzaghi, who scored twice in Milan's quarter-final win over Olympique Lyon, was unable to train on Monday after missing Friday's derby victory over Inter Milan.
Captain Paolo Maldini, recently returned from a three month injury lay off, looked back to full fitness in the derby and could well feature in the starting line-up at left back.
Maldini was part of the Milan side who enjoyed one of their greatest nights with a 4-0 victory over Barcelona in the 1994 European Cup final in Athens.
Barcelona warmed up for Tuesday's clash by moving a step closer to retaining their Primera Liga title with a 1-0 win over Villarreal on Friday, leading striker Samuel Eto'o scoring his 24th goal of the season.
Ronaldinho was rested for a second league match in a row, but coach Frank Rijkaard was left with two new injury worries up front after Sweden striker Henrik Larsson hobbled off with a thigh strain and his replacement Santi Ezquerro followed him down the tunnel with a bruised knee.
"We earned ourselves three very important points," said Rijkaard. "We played well and created plenty of opportunities and now we can focus on the Milan match. The only negative aspect was the injuries, but we hope they aren't too serious."
Barca are already certain to be without their dynamic Argentine teenager Lionel Messi who has failed to recover in time from a torn thigh muscle and will now miss both legs of the semi-final.
The injury problems up front mean that speedy French winger Ludovic Giuly is favourite to partner Eto'o and Ronaldinho in Barca's three-man attack.
In midfield, the influential Portugal international Deco is suspended after picking up a booking in the 2-0 victory over Benfica in the last round.
That means experienced Dutch international Mark van Bommel, fit-again Brazilian Thiago Motta, talented youngster Andres Iniesta and Brazil's Edmilson will compete for the three places in midfield.
Centre-back Rafael Marquez returned to the squad for the Villarreal match following a thigh injury, but he did not play and Rijkaard said he will wait to see how the Mexican responds in training before deciding if he will start against Milan.
Since the 4-0 loss to Milan, Barcelona have reached two Champions League semi-finals, losing to Valencia in 2000 and eventual champions Real Madrid in 2002.
Milan lost their first European Cup semi-final against Real Madrid in 1955-56, the inaugural season, but have not lost at this stage since, reaching 10 finals, including two in the last three seasons.
AC Milan: 1-Dida; 2-Cafu, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 4-Kakha Kaladze, 3-Paolo Maldini; 8-Gennaro Gattuso, 21-Andrea Pirlo, 20-Clarence Seedorf; 22-Kaka; 7-Andriy Shevchenko
Barcelona: 1-Victor Valdes; 2-Juliano Belletti or 23-Oleguer, 5-Carles Puyol, 4-Rafael Marquez, 12-Giovanni van Bronckhorst or 16-Silvinho; 17-Mark van Bommel, 15-Edmilson, 24-Andres Iniesta or 3-Thiago Motta; 8-Ludovic Giuly, 10-Ronaldinho, 9-Samuel Eto'o
Referee: Alain Sars (France)
(Additional reporting by Simon Baskett in Madrid)
UEFA Champions League 2005-06: The Complete Coverage