Milan AC 2-1 RC Lens
Milan AC made a winning return to the UEFA Champions League with a hard-fought 2-1 home win over French side RC Lens in their opening game of Group G.
The razor-sharp Filippo Inzaghi proved to be the difference between the sides as the Italy international helped himself to two quick-fire goals early in the second half. The first broke the deadlock in the 57th minute, as he stooped to glance a header beyond goalkeeper Guillaume Warmuz and into the far corner after an excellent cross from Kakha Kaladze. The striker then showed all his predatory skills three minutes later, with a trademark turn in the area before sweeping a left-footed shot into the corner of the net.
Rivaldo's first competitive start
Until that point the game had been a less than enticing encounter as both sides failed to gain any pattern to their play. Unsurprisingly, coach Carlo Ancelotti opted for an attacking lineup, giving summer signing Rivaldo his first competitive start alongside Inzaghi up front. Portuguese playmaker Rui Costa was given the freedom to roam across the field, leaving the equally talented Andrea Pirlo saddled with the defensive midfield chores.
Lens content to sit back
However, Milan's much-vaunted strikeforce failed to make any headway against a Lens side content to sit back and allow the Italians to dominate possession in the centre of the pitch. Former Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC defender Rigobert Song was in outstanding form in the first period, marshalling Inzaghi at every turn. Rivaldo saw an early effort from the edge of the area drift wide but it was not until the 13th minute that either goalkeeper was called into action, as Lens midfield player Olivier Thomert hit a tame shot straight at Dida in the Milan net.
Milan up the tempo
The home side attempted to increase the tempo and Dutch star Clarence Seedorf saw a spectacular overhead kick flash past the post, but overall the Rossoneri were unable to gain any rhythm to their play. Brazilian FIFA World Cup winner Rivaldo, in particular, looked out of sorts, finding little comfort in an advanced role. His insistence at dropping into deep-lying positions not only encouraged Lens to remain in their defensive shell, but also negated much of the neat interplay between Costa, Pirlo and Seedorf.
Lens refuse to accept all is lost
Inzaghi's timely strikes eased much of the tension within the San Siro and for long periods Milan seemed to be coasting to victory. However, Lens refused to accept that all was lost and the introduction of the exciting Nigerian youngster John Utaka helped turn the game the visitors' way. The striker gave notice of his skilful running soon after coming on and only a timely challenge from the evergreen Paolo Maldini stopped his progress.
Moreira volleys home
Then on 77 minutes Utaka skipped past Kaladze to deliver a pinpoint cross for Daniel Moreira to volley into the net from close range. After that, however, Milan regained their composure and Ancelotti sacrificed any further attacking impetus with the substitution of both Rivaldo and Inzaghi.