AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso described his side's UEFA Champions League semi-final victory against Manchester United FC as "an incredible achievement" and the prospect of playing in the final as "the ultimate for any player".
Milan managed to transform a 3-2 first-leg deficit into 5-3 aggregate win after goals by Kaká, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino gave the Rossoneri an impressive 3-0 win at San Siro. However, the Italian giants' owed as much to Gattuso's selfless hard work as they did to their goalscorers. The 29-year-old's performance, which was marked by countless crunching tackles and ferocious determination, earned him uefa.com users' Man of the Match award.
"It was an incredible achievement," he said. "It seemed easy but we know what we've been through this season and it hasn't been at all easy to get to this point. Back in November/December we hadn't had a proper pre-season to prepare, we were a side that was totally lost. We weren't in good shape at all and everyone was criticising us - rightly so because our league position was awful. It was a terrible time."
Gattuso was part of the Italy squad that won the FIFA World Cup last summer, but he is equally excited about playing in a third UEFA Champions League final. "Getting to the final of the Champions League is the ultimate for any player and to reach a third one in five years is unbelievable - an extraordinary achievement. Only great sides can do this sort of thing. This is why we are so happy, because we were being slaughtered from all quarters and now we've reached the final."
The Athens finale is a repeat of the 2005 edition, which Liverpool FC won on penalties, but the former Rangers FC player is not vengeful, saying: "There's no revenge. It's just footballing history. It's how history has been written. I hope we don't suffer another hammer blow like last time. [Paolo] Maldini told me it's his eighth final. He's won four won and lost three - let's hope he makes it 5-3 and I make it 2-1. It will be a hard final because Liverpool are a very hard team, really tough. They are very different to Manchester. In my opinion, they are reminiscent of the Italian sides of the 1990s. They play a good catenaccio, are deadly on the counterattack and they have a coach who will be there for a long, long time."
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