By Paolo Menicucci
Two of European football's biggest names, AC Milan and Real Madrid CF, meet at the San Siro on Tuesday in what both managers are promising will be "a great match".
Milan, five-times European champions, take on the holders and nine-times winners Madrid in the teams' opening match in Group C of the UEFA Champions League second group stage. These credentials ensure the coaches are not alone in feeling a surge of anticipation. For Madrid's Vicente del Bosque, however, this is tempered by the knowledge Madrid's prospects face a severe test in Milan.
'Two of the world's best teams'
Noting Milan's impressive form in the competition so far, Del Bosque said: "After a bad period they seem to be back at the level they were at in the past.
It'll be a great match between two of the best teams in the world. They have changed their style, they play more offensively and have a good passing game."
It does not help Madrid that they will be without several key players. Captain Fernando Hierro and midfield player Claude Makelele have ankle injuries while Ronaldo has flu, and to make matters worse, Guti, the Brazilian's intended replacement, twisted his right ankle during training on the eve of the match and will not play. On the bright side for Del Bosque, however, is the expected return of Zinedine Zidane from the back problem that kept him out of Saturday's draw with FC Barcelona.
Milan go into the match on the back of a 1-0 derby win over Internazionale FC which sent them top of Serie A. Coach Carlo Ancelotti's planning has not been helped by Alessandro Nesta's thigh injury and the Italy defender was not named in the 20-man Rossoneri squad.
Old boy Seedorf
However, unlike Del Bosque, Ancelotti does have a full quota of forwards to choose from, with Rivaldo, Filippo Inzaghi, Andriy Shevchenko, Serginho and Jon Dahl Tomasson vying for starting places. In midfield he can call on Clarence Seedorf, a European Cup winner with Madrid in 1998.
Milan's confidence high
Milan topped a first-phase group that included FC Bayern München and RC Deportivo La Coruña and enter the match with no inferiority complex. "
We are gaining self-confidence and we are pleased to be facing what is probably the best team in Europe," said Ancelotti.
Down memory lane
Nesta's injury means veteran Alessandro Costacurta should start alongside Paolo Maldini in the centre of Milan's defence. The pair are the only survivors from the European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-final of 1989 when Ancelotti himself scored the opening goal in the Italians' 5-0 dismantling of Madrid - revenge for three earlier defeats in the competition, including the 1958 final.
'Another great match'
"I have seen that goal so many times," said Ancelotti. "It's always special to play against Real Madrid. It was a great adventure for us, but now it's history. Tomorrow we have another great match to play."
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