By Paolo Menicucci
Reigning European champions AC Milan will start their UEFA Champions League defence tonight against AFC Ajax - the team they dramatically defeated 3-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals of last year's competition.
Inzaghi makes the difference
Filippo Inzaghi was the man who made the difference that night as the Rossoneri secured a 3-2 second-leg win in the San Siro. The 30-year old striker scored Milan's opener and also set up goals for team-mates Andriy Shevchenko and Jon Dahl Tomasson.
Milan went on to overcome city rivals Internazionale FC to reach the final at Old Trafford, where they saw off Juventus FC on penalties. Inzaghi did not score in Manchester but his goals over the course of the season were instrumental in Milan winning their sixth European crown. His campaign began with both goals in the third qualifying round win against FC Slovan Liberec, before adding a further ten during the competition proper.
However, Inzaghi is not resting on last season's laurels. "It's a great feeling to start the new UEFA Champions League campaign as defending champions," he told uefa.com just before Milan's final training session ahead of the Ajax match. "But now it's time to forget the great things we achieved last season.
'A new adventure'
"We are ready to start a new adventure in Europe and we know that we will have to face many strong opponents.
This time will probably be even tougher than last season because it's never easy to repeat a success. However, we really hope and want to be protagonists again."
After that last-gasp win against Ajax in April, Inzaghi expects Ronald Koeman's side to be a tough proposition again. "I don't think that there will be many differences with the match we played against Ajax some months ago," he said. "They are really strong as always and are a difficult side to face. However, it's our first match in the competition [this season] and we want to start with three points in front of our fans."
In a Group H section which also includes Club Brugge KV and RC Celta de Vigo, six-times champions Milan and four-times winners Ajax are considered by many as favourites to progress to the knockout stage. However, Inzaghi does not necessarily agree. "Our group is really balanced and I think that every team have more or less the same chance to progress to the next stage," he said. "However we want to win the group and I believe we can do it."
Already this season Inzaghi, Italian football's top scorer in European club competition with 45 goals, has shown how lethal he can be by finding the net five times in the last fortnight. After a hat-trick in Italy's 4-0 win over Wales (the first treble by an Italy player since Paolo Rossi's against Brazil in the 1982 FIFA World Cup), he added another goal in the Azzurri's 1-1 draw in Serbia and Montenegro before netting a late winner for Milan against Bologna FC on Saturday.
"It was a magic week," Inzaghi admitted. "
It is a fantastic period for me and I really hope to keep on scoring like this. I'm obviously really pleased with my recent performances both with the national team and with Milan and I hope I can continue this form for a long time this season." If he does defenders across Europe will have good cause to worry.
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