Massimo Ambrosini admits that AC Milan's defensive powers will be tested to the limit when they come up against Lionel Messi at Camp Nou on Tuesday night, but the Rossoneri captain insists that no special provisions have been made for the FC Barcelona forward. "Either you play as a team against Barcelona or you have no chance," he said.
Ambrosini may have faced Barcelona three times this season without emerging victorious but he embarks on this UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg with plenty of experience to hand. The 34-year-old has made 77 appearances in Europe's premier club competition and featured in both of Milan's most recent victorious finals in 2003 and 2007. He knows full well that another vintage Rossoneri display will be required to get past the European champions.
"Barcelona are a team with a great deal of ball possession and they make you run a lot," he told Monday night's press conference, which was delayed by 45 minutes after the Serie A side's flight from Milan left three hours late owing to a strike by air traffic control operators in France. "You know what to expect when you face them and you know you’ll be very tired after the match.
"Tomorrow we will have to be brave. If you let them control the ball, you know what will happen. But anything can happen in football. In the group stage we played well for half an hour, then we played badly, but we scored a goal at the end [in the 2-2 draw in September].
It isn't a question of zonal marking, it's a question of attitude; it's about the team's attitude in defence and attack. Either you play as a team against Barcelona or you have no chance."
Undoubtedly Milan's chief cause of concern will be the ability of Messi to run at their rearguard. The Argentinian international was a handful in the first leg at San Siro, but a display of resolute defending prevented the Blaugrana from scoring a precious away goal. "When he has the ball, Messi is completely unpredictable so you can't think about stopping him," explained Ambrosini. "Everything we do tomorrow we will have to do as a team, not as individuals; the same rule applies when it comes to Messi."
Milan's last victory against Barcelona came on 20 October 2004 in the UEFA Champions League group stage, Andriy Shevchenko scoring the only goal in a match featuring Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf and 'Ambro', who was a substitute that night. Indeed Ambrosini is the sole survivor of Milan's only previous victory at Camp Nou, a 2-0 success on 26 September 2000, though this is clearly a match that has been forgotten amid his subsequent successes.
"Whoever plays tomorrow has to feel privileged and I speak as a captain. It's great to be here for this match, we all know what it means to play at Camp Nou but we don't know what beating Barcelona feels like so we hope to experience that tomorrow." There can be little doubt that beating this particular Barcelona side would live long in the memory.
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