By Ivan Carvalho at the San Siro
In the end, AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti's prediction of a hard-fought match dominated by the strength of his defenders and his side's ability to control possession was apposite as the Italian side won 1-0 to eliminate Manchester United FC from the UEFA Champions League.
Much of the pre-match talk in both camps surrounded United's 3-2 victory against Carlo Ancelotti's Juventus FC in 1999, when Sir Alex Ferguson's men recovered from a 1-1 draw in the first leg and a 2-0 deficit early on in the Turin match to earn a place in the final. But for all the mind games being played, Milan had their own historical precedent to take heart from - they have never lost a home game to an English team in UEFA club competition.
Like in the first leg at Old Trafford, Milan knew they would need another stellar performance from their backline to hold off wunderkind Wayne Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooij, who has a remarkable record of 36 Champions League goals in 38 games in a United shirt. Ancelotti had the services of former United defender Jaap Stam this time around and the imposing Dutchman and Italian international Alessandro Nesta were given the task of keeping the duo at bay as Paolo Maldini moved over to left-back.
With Van Nistelrooij playing as target man, Rooney was able to drop back into his preferred role of linking midfield and attack. As Ancelotti opted for the attack-minded 35-year-old Cafu at right-back, Milan risked being vulnerable in defence and the visitors' best opportunity of the first half came on one such occasion. Winger Ryan Giggs was released by Van Nistelrooij and fired his shot across Dida's goal only to see it come back off the far post.
Sir Alex's other question mark going in was how American goalkeeper Tim Howard would respond to the pressure of the 70,000-strong crowd at the San Siro. His first action came after just seven minutes and although he could only parry Hernán Crespo's initial shot, he was quick to his feet and recovered possession. The remainder of the half was fairly quiet however, as the game followed Ancelotti's prediction that neither side would have many chances.
Milan's rearguard began the second period in confident mood, skilfully retaining possession and starving the visitors of the chance to attack. Just before the hour mark, Crespo had an effort smothered by Howard and then missed the target with a towering header. Sir Alex was forced to withdraw Ryan Giggs immediately after, with Quinton Fortune coming on and United's marginal hopes of reaching the quarter-finals receded.
They disappeared almost completely on 61 minutes when, as in the first leg when Roy Carroll was beaten by Crespo, United's goalkeeper was called into question as the Argentinian caught Howard out of position. The US international could not get a hand to Crespo's looping header and Milan were home and dry.
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