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The fashion houses of Via Montenapoleone in Milan will temporarily see their status as the home of Italian style usurped by the three-tiered stands of the San Siro on Tuesday as the Rossoneri welcome fellow aristocrats FC Barcelona for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final tie.
"This is a match between two great clubs," said the AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti. "Barcelona and ourselves are currently playing the most attractive football in Europe and I'm expecting a spectacular match with lots of action at both ends." The statistics add weight to that belief, with Milan having scored 103 goals in all competitions this season and their visitors 106. In Serie A, Ancelotti's team have amassed 76 points from 34 outings, while Barça have 73 points from 33 Primera División fixtures. Eerily similar records.
Both clubs advanced to this stage by virtue of aggregate victories by two goals in the quarter-finals, and each won 1-0 on Friday with Kakha Kaladze settling the second-city derby against FC Internazionale Milano and Samuel Eto'o doing likewise for Barcelona against fellow semi-finalists Villarreal CF. Ancelotti added: "Milan and Barcelona are very similar sides with an identical mentality. When clubs like that meet, the key to victory lies with being able to impose your game on the other team."
For all their pomp Barcelona have only once had their name etched on to club football's most revered trophy, an accomplishment enjoyed six times by Milan with their most recent victory coming in 2003; experience which could prove crucial in dividing these titans. "This is our third Champions League semi-final in four years so we are used to matches of this intensity," said Ancelotti, who fielded 13 former winners against Olympique Lyonnais in the home leg of their quarter-final tie.
In contrast only Deco has won the UEFA Champions League in the Barcelona ranks, and the former FC Porto schemer is suspended for this first leg. "We know Milan are very experienced and very organised and should be favourites playing at home," said visiting coach Frank Rijkaard. "Yet being the favourite means nothing – you have to go out there and prove you're the best. They've shown that they're hard to beat but we're here to play football and to try to get a positive result."
The Dutchman lost the services of Henrik Larsson to a thigh injury against Villarreal, although Ronaldinho – who replaced Milan's Andriy Shevchenko as the European Footballer of the Year in 2005 – is refreshed and ready to unleash his own brand of brilliance on to the tie after being rested for the Catalan club's last two games. Rijkaard has named seven different three-man midfield combinations in ten European games this season and is likely to turn to Andrés Iniesta, Edmílson and Mark van Bommel on Tuesday.
Milan were dealt a late blow when Filippo Inzaghi, scorer against FC Bayern München and Lyon, was ruled out due to a virus. Rijkaard refused to be drawn on whether the poacher's absence would aid his side, saying simply: "These things happen." Ancelotti will therefore field a strikeforce of Shevchenko – the nine-goal leading scorer in the UEFA Champions League – and Alberto Gilardino who is yet to find the net in eight matches at this level.
Finally, the tie brings Ancelotti and Rijkaard together again after they won successive European Cups as Milan team-mates in 1989 and 1990. Ancelotti remembered how both had flourished under 'il grande maestro' Arrigo Sacchi, while Rijkaard was more forthright, saying: "I respect him a lot as a friend but we are both working for our goals and objectives." Paris on 17 May is the only objective.
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