For the third time, three teams from the same country will be involved in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals as Manchester United FC take on AC Milan and Chelsea FC meet Liverpool FC.
The situation first occurred in 1999/00 when Valencia CF, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF all reached the last four, with Madrid going on to lift the trophy. The 2002/03 semi-finals featured three Italian clubs - Milan, FC Internazionale Milano and Juventus - with Carlo Ancelotti's Rossoneri triumphing in the final at Old Trafford. The English trio can perhaps take comfort from those experiences. On both previous occasions three sides from the same nation have made it this far, the final has been a one-country affair, Madrid ousting Valencia in 2000 and Milan overcoming Juve three years later.
Milan, who have landed the European Champion Clubs' Cup six times and contested a further four finals, eliminated United 2-0 on aggregate in the 2004/05 first knockout round en route to their Istanbul reverse against Liverpool. The Rossoneri have also encountered United in two European Cup semi-finals and progressed in both, overturning a 2-1 first-leg deficit with a 4-0 home victory in 1957/58, and winning 2-1 on aggregate in 1968/69 to end the Old Trafford team's reign as European champions. United, who also lifted the trophy in 1999 and last reached this stage five years ago, will be wary of opponents who have lost just two of their eleven European Cup semi-finals.
By contrast, Chelsea are in the last four for the third time in four campaigns and, like United, will harbour hopes of revenge after succumbing to Liverpool in the semis two seasons ago. The English title-holders, bidding to become the first London club to go all the way in this tournament, also went down to AS Monaco FC in 2004. Despite those disappointments, however, Chelsea boast four UEFA Champions League winners in their squad and will be well prepared to tackle Rafael Benítez's men whom they are facing for the third successive year in the competition. Meanwhile, the Merseysiders' victory over Milan two terms ago was their fifth continental triumph and they have prevailed in all but one of their seven semi-finals.
The final will be held at the Olympic Stadium on 23 May and Athens is already looking forward to the event. The city's mayor, Nikitas Kaklamanis, recently received the European Champion Clubs' Cup from UEFA President Michel Platini after Barcelona's Ludovic Giuly had symbolically handed the trophy back to UEFA.
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