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On an evening when the blackest of clouds swirled above Milan and swamped the city with torrential rain, another force of nature was driving towards a seemingly predetermined fate. Having watched Liverpool FC reach the final of the UEFA Champions League the night before, nothing was going to stop AC Milan earning their shot at revenge.
Six of the side that started the second leg of their semi-final against Manchester United FC at San Siro had played in the heart-wrenching defeat on penalties in the final against Liverpool two years ago. The manner in which the Rossoneri set about dismantling United's 3-2 first-leg lead suggested there was no way they were going to pass up the opportunity of finally healing a deep wound.
Call to arms
"Win for us" was the demand, in English, held up by the tifosi in a huge red-and-white mosaic behind one goal. The message was simple and followed to the letter as Carlo Ancelotti's team tore at United in the first half. They were playing the Premiership leaders at their own game: power, speed and sublime skill. Kaká led the charge, driving in the first after eleven minutes for his perfect tenth in the competition this term. The brilliant Brazilian dictated the pace, his touch and vision pulling the visitors in all directions.
Gennaro Gattuso supplied the brawn, snapping at the heels of players in white and refusing to let them settle on the slippery, sodden surface. He took Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game, jumping away from one tackle punching the air after brushing the Portuguese winger to the floor. Milan fans had hardly needed further encouragement to raise the decibel levels; Clarence Seedorf's superb strike on 30 minutes to double the advantage had long since drowned out the sound of rain battering the roof of the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.
For United it was a sad end to a thrilling run that had seen Sir Alex Ferguson's men dazzle in a seven-goal rout of AS Roma and again at Old Trafford against Milan. There was to be no repeat of Turin 1999 when United battled back so bravely against Juventus to claim a place in the final. This time there was no way back. As is so often the case, it was Milan's night.
The Rossoneri's record since Ancelotti arrived at the helm in 2001 is outstanding: finalists three times, winning one, and semi-finalists last season. This year, though, is something special even by those high standards. The turnaround has been remarkable in a campaign that began with their very participation in the tournament in doubt. They also had to endure city rivals FC Internazionale Milano's utter dominance of Serie A following their points' deduction. Here, the pendulum swung back towards the red and blacks.
Alberto Gilardino iced the cake with a late third to leave San Siro shaking under the weight of Milan's delirious supporters. The thunder and lightning crashing around the ground had provided a fittingly dramatic backdrop to an explosive tie. The real fireworks, though, will be saved for Athens. With a seventh crown in their sights, surely Milan will not let club football's most coveted prize slip from their grasp again.
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