By Ivan Carvalho at San Siro
Four second-half goals, two each from Kaká and Hernán Crespo, were enough to see AC Milan through to the first knockout round as the Italians beat FC Shakhtar Donetsk 4-0 in their Group F encounter. A single point would have sufficed to secure a place in the last 16, but with this victory Milan moved two points ahead of FC Barcelona at the top of the section.
With top scorer Andriy Shevchenko and Jon Dahl Tomasson nursing slight injuries and Filippo Inzaghi sidelined until February, coach Carlo Ancelotti relied on Crespo as the lone striker, using a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation with Brazilian prodigy Kaká playing alongside Portuguese playmaker Rui Costa.
Shakhtar, meanwhile, were without defender Cosmin Barcauan and midfield player Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, both sent off in the 1-0 loss at Celtic FC. However, Matuzalem managed to shake off an injury to start in midfield and Shakhtar showed early on that they were not to be underestimated by the Italian champions. In the fifth minute Serbo-Montenegrin midfield player Zvonimir Vukic picked up an errant pass and charged inside but his effort was easily handled by Dida.
Milan responded confidently with a fine one-two between Crespo and Rui Costa but the latter's shot was tipped over by goalkeeper Jan Laštuvka. Then in the 18th minute Cafu whipped in a cross to compatriot Kaká who got in front of his marker but headed over.
Not a single Ukrainian
The 'Miners', who fielded a multi-national starting XI without a single Ukrainian, continued to press forward, creating several chances down the right thanks to Romanian Flavius Stoican. On the half-hour, Stoican offered an inviting cross to Brazilian forward Brandão, but his header was well off target. Minutes later, a left-footed drive from Matuzalem forced a low save from Dida.
Kaká drives wide
Milan responded in the 40th minute with a neat combination between Kaká and Clarence Seedorf. Kaká charged on to a back-heeled pass from the Dutchman but the 22-year-old's right-footed drive went just wide of goal. In the dying seconds of the first half, Rui Costa found himself again in space yet his effort lacked precision.
Shakhtar nearly went in front after 30 seconds of the second half as Matuzalem lofted a long pass forward to Nigerian forward Julius Aghahowa who got between two defenders only to send his right-footed drive wide of Dida's goal. And a minute later Matuzalem found space to shoot but thankfully for Milan his effort sailed over the crossbar.
Having survived those scares, Milan finally took charge. In the 52nd minute Rui Costa's lobbed pass found Cafu inside the box, he crossed for Kaká and the Brazilian's diving header opened the scoring for the Italian side. Moments after the restart Milan doubled their lead as Rui Costa threaded a pass between three defenders to Crespo who rounded Laštuvka to make it 2-0.
Not content with that, Crespo then attempted a bicycle kick only for Laštuvka to produce a reflex save to deny him a second goal. A shaken Shakhtar regrouped and in the 70th minute nearly pulled a goal back as Vukic delivered a low strike that Dida turned behind for a corner.
By then it was too late for the visitors, however, and Crespo made it three on 85 minutes. A Seedorf header was blocked on the line and the Argentinian forward tapped in. Kaká completed the scoring in added time, beating Darijo Srna with a drag-back before slotting the ball to Laštuvka's left.