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By Fergus O'Shea in La Coruna
AC Milan travel to the Riazor to take on RC Deportivo La Coruña in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final safe in the knowledge that only a momentous upset will deny them a place in the final four.
Milan on a roll
Leading 4-1 and boasting one of the best defences in the competition, a place in the semi-finals is there for the taking for the European champions, with no side having ever overturned a three-goal first-leg defict in the history of the Champions League.
'Miracles often happen'
But Deportivo coach Javier Irureta has refused to rule out his side just yet. "This is of course a very complex, difficult and challenging task," he said. "But in football miracles often happen, things that you might not expect from the rational mind. Milan are one of the best teams in the world and they won the first leg by three goals, but in football there is always hope for those who are determined, and my players will all be very determined."
In the first leg at the San Siro two weeks ago, Deportivo were overrun by a ruthless Milan side, despite taking the lead through striker Walter Pandiani on the back of an impressive first-half performance. But the strength of this Milan side became evident either side of the break as they scored four times in a stunning nine-minute spell to leave the Spanish side reeling and needing at least a 3-0 victory to progess.
Forward Alberto Luque, however, believes Deportivo can still give the supporters a victory to celebrate. "I personally hope for an early goal which would make them nervous and give us additional support," he said. "
This is a historic opportunity for our club and the players. If we can do the seemingly impossible, then we will be part of sporting history."
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti disagreed. "We don't consider the idea of losing the match - of course we know it is a possibilty, but we are focused and fixed on a win," he said. "We will play this game aware of the result of the game in Milan, but in the end we have to play as we know how to."
Irureta played the first leg in his usual 4-2-3-1 formation and managed to frustrate the Milan midfield for large periods of the game. This time, however, his side will have to do more than simply attempt to stifle their opponents. "
I believe my players can score three goals," he said. "But this also means that the players from midfield will have to do their part and get goals. Our big challenge will be to play at our highest level for the total 90 minutes or more - not just 30 minutes as in recent league matches."
Milan have been boosted by the return of Alessandro Nesta to the centre of defence after injury forced him to miss the first leg. Alessandro Costacurta looks likely to drop to the bench in an otherwise unchanged Milan side. Irureta, meanwhile, is also expected to make one change with Manuel Pablo replacing Lionel Scaloni at right-back. "Milan will try to keep the ball at their feet and control the game," Manuel Pablo said. "We will have to make life difficult for them and not let them do this."
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