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Fittingly in Athens, the sanctuary of Nemesis, Greek goddess of vengeance, AC Milan atoned for their defeat by Liverpool FC in the UEFA Champions League final two years ago with a 2-1 win in the rematch.
According to Greek philosopher Heraclitus: "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man." Substitute final for river, and man for team, and he might have been talking about the showpieces of 2005 and 2007. Milan fielded seven survivors of Istanbul in their starting XI while five of their conquerors remained in Liverpool's lineup. The key players were the same, Steven Gerrard and Kaká, albeit even better than the 2005 models.
Licence to thrill
Right-sided midfielder and right-back then, Gerrard began in attack here and with Kaká similarly employed behind Filippo Inzaghi, the best men in both sides were effectively operating in the same area. The midfield graft was left to others - Dirk Kuyt supporting Liverpool's central pair and Gennaro Gattuso moving in from the right to do likewise for Milan. Kaká tested Pepe Reina with a shot from distance that the goalkeeper gathered comfortably, before bringing the crowd to its feet with a sublime pirouette after 25 minutes. Gerrard was everywhere up front and won a free-kick, pressed Alessandro Nesta into an error and volleyed over within the space of a couple of minutes.
However, neither coach's tactics were working perfectly. Kaká did not venture into the Liverpool area and was forced to drop deep to avoid the attentions of Javier Mascherano while Gerrard was often taking on too much on his own. The gap between Liverpool's midfield and front lines was only briefly bridged by the runs of Jermaine Pennant. Inzaghi saw little of the ball early on, although he just failed to get on the end of an Andrea Pirlo pass when the player whom Sir Alex Ferguson said "was born in an offside position" beat the Liverpool rearguard but could not apply a finishing touch. He did so, crucially however, on the stroke of half-time, deflecting Pirlo's strike past Reina after Kaká had earned a free-kick.
Boudewijn Zenden, the black belt in judo, was getting little change out of Gatttuso, the black belt in seemingly everything else, and Liverpool fans started chanting Harry Kewell's name not long after half-time. The Australian international's introduction eventually came on 59 minutes. By the hour-mark in Istanbul Liverpool had completed their comeback. Virtually to the minute in Athens they almost fell further behind, only a Jamie Carragher foul denying Kaká a run on goal. Just when it seemed his Liverpool counterpart Gerrard was becalmed, the Reds' captain outwitted Alessandro Nesta to race clear, yet his sidefoot was well saved by Dida.
A more speculative effort after 72 minutes took an Inzaghi-style deflection off Kuyt but flew narrowly wide with time running out for Liverpool against a Paolo Maldini-inspired defence. Not even the arrival of Peter Crouch and Gerrard's reversion to a more orthodox midfield berth could energise the Liverpool attack. Instead it was Kaká who helped provide the coup de grâce, releasing Inzaghi for his second goal eight minutes from time to seal Milan's win. Kuyt's header offered late drama but while Liverpool's players slumped to their knees at the final whistle, Kaka dropped to his in prayer: the demons of 2005 had been exorcised.
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