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By Graham Hunter at the San Siro
Four stunning goals in a blistering eight-minute spell gave the holders AC Milan a massive advantage to take from the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final against RC Deportivo La Coruña.
Despite a fine first 44 minutes from Javier Irureta's visitors which included Walter Pandiani's opener, two wonderful goals from Kaká, a fine strike by Andriy Shevchenko and Andrea Pirlo's thunderous free-kick devastated the visitors and allowed Milan to put one foot into the last four.
The fact Deportivo were fortified in confidence from having eliminated Juventus FC two weeks ago was evident from the way they began. Their passing was measured and effective as the Spanish side, not the European champions, dictated the tempo of the game. Irureta deployed his customary 4-2-3-1 formation, with Aldo Duscher used to stifle Kaká's creativity behind the Milan strikers.
Carlo Ancelotti relegated Massimo Ambrosini to the bench despite his powerful performance in the 4-1 victory over AC Sparta Praha in the first knockout round and installed Clarence Seedorf. The Dutchman, who has Champions League medals with three different clubs, played in an adjusted 4-2-2-2 alongside Kaká.
Deportivo's marking scheme, and Seedorf's advanced role, crowded the space in front of the Spanish side's penalty area and Kaká initially found it hard to receive his customary amount of possession. Milan started sluggishly and, with Alessandro Nesta out injured, Ancelotti fielded the 37-year-old Alessandro Costacurta at centre-half; the veteran was quickly exposed as Deportivo took the lead.
Irureta's side had threatened just before when Alberto Luque's tenth-minute cross to the near post was intercepted by Costacurta as Pandiani waited to score. But the Uruguayan hit his fifth goal in nine Champions League games 60 seconds later when he headed in Joan Capdevila's left-wing cross with the Milan defence motionless.
Milan's threat gradually grew from the clever lofted crosses of Giuseppe Pancaro but it was Kaká, as usual, who started to make the difference. The 21-year-old connected with Cafu's 16th-minute cross but volleyed narrowly wide and when Paolo Maldini splendidly robbed Sergio González it was Kaká's fizzing drive which was saved.
Although Filippo Inzaghi had Milan's brightest early chance when Pancaro's cross drifted over Nourredine Naybet and José Molina was forced to save at the Italian's feet, it was a Brazilian breakthrough which brought Milan back in the game. Cafu raced down the right and cut his cross back, wrong-footing the Deportivo back line and Kaká, who had raced clear of Duscher, controlled the ball on his left thigh before striking a low volley with his right foot.
The goal disrupted Deportivo's controlled passing and possession which had been frustrating the noisy San Siro crowd and Milan ended the half on a high, having been jeered for a long spell before half-time when they could not win the ball back during a 24-pass Deportivo move.
The world caved in on Irureta's side as Milan surged into a three-goal lead inside eight minutes of the second half. Within 30 seconds of the restart Shevchenko swivelled on the ball, ran at Naybet and, in one smooth movement, cut inside and curled the ball past Molina into the far corner.
Two minutes later Seedorf cut in from a similar inside-left position, exposing Capdevila, and set up Kaká for a searing bottom-corner drive. And Pirlo set the seal on a monstrous display of power when he curled a 25-metre free-kick at pace past Molina.
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