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Manchester United face Milan for all-English final
April 24, 2007 07:20 IST
Manchester United will carry the hopes of an all-English Champions League final with them this week when they host AC Milan and Chelsea face Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
The semi-final first leg ties start on Tuesday at Old Trafford with United looking to show how much progress they have made since being outclassed by Milan two seasons ago.
Then, the Italian side won both legs 1-0 in the first knockout round, courtesy of two goals from Milan's on-loan Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo.
United are now tougher opponents in Europe and lead the Premier League thanks to a scintillating campaign from Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo and England striker Wayne Rooney, who have scored over 40 goals between them in all competitions.
Paul Scholes, who like Ronaldo will miss the second leg next Wednesday at San Siro if he picks up a yellow card at Old Trafford, will keep the midfield ticking over on his return from suspension, while Ryan Giggs remains a menace going forward.
Milan will have seen United's 7-1 demolition of their Serie A rivals AS Roma at Old Trafford two weeks ago and will be well aware of United's threat.
"It's a result that tells us we have to be very careful," Milan's Brazilian defender Cafu was quoted as telling reporters on Sunday on the club's Web site (www.acmilan.com).
"It's going to be a tough game and we are going to have to give everything. Manchester United play very well at home and especially well in big competitions like this."
But Cafu highlighted the fact that Milan, who are coming off five consecutive wins in all competitions, became the first side to beat Bayern Munich in Europe at their Allianz Arena in the quarter-finals.
Looking ahead to the trip to Manchester, he said: "We've got to go and play there like we did in Munich -- with determination. Like that, we might be able to bring home a positive result."
That should be all the more achievable as United, whose push to the Premier League title stumbled with a 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough on Saturday, are facing an injury crisis that has particularly ravaged their defensive ranks.
The action continues in west London on Wednesday with Chelsea's game against Liverpool, an encounter that will evoke unhappy memories for the home fans.
Liverpool's run to a victorious final against Milan two seasons ago hinged on a much-disputed goal by Luis Garcia, the only one of their two semi-final legs against Chelsea.
Many Blues fans still believe Garcia's strike did not cross the line at Anfield and see this season's meetings as a chance to set the record straight.
In the Premier League this season, Chelsea beat Liverpool 1-0 at the Bridge in September courtesy of a wonder strike by Ivorian Didier Drogba but lost 2-0 at Anfield in January.
On Sunday, the champions failed to capitalise on United's draw with Boro by drawing 0-0 at Newcastle United to stay three points adrift in the title race.
An all-English Champions League final in Athens on May 23 would certainly not lack spice.
There have been only two one-country precedents, when Real Madrid beat Valencia in 2000 and three years later when Milan defeated Juventus on penalties at Old Trafford.
Chelsea against United would reflect this season's Premier League title race and re-run an FA Cup final between the same two sides just four days earlier at Wembley.
Up in the northwest, though, they want a derby between 2005 winners Liverpool, looking for a sixth European Cup, and 1999 winners United, aiming for their third.
UEFA Champions League 2006-07: The Complete Coverage