FC Barcelona booked their place in the UEFA Champions League final as they held off the challenge of AC Milan to earn a goalless draw at the Camp Nou and defeat the Italian side 1-0 on aggregate thanks to Ludovic Giuly's first-leg goal.
While the Catalan club are renowned for their attacking prowess, they proved that they can also keep it tight at the back and the manner in which they rebuffed all of Milan's advances was testament to that. Indeed, this was the first time Barcelona had failed to score at this stadium in 30 matches.
Milan had arrived in Spain with the immediate priority of cancelling out Barcelona's advantage and signalled their intent as early as the opening minute. Jaap Stam clipped a ball down the right flank and Kaká out-muscled Giovanni van Bronckhorst before sending a shot wide of the far post.
Barça's approach does not allow them to sit back and soak up pressure and they registered their first attempt of the night soon after. Samuel Eto'o sped past Alessandro Costacurta, in for the injured Alessandro Nesta, and into the Milan area, but his strike was blocked by the outrushing Dida. Frank Rijkaard's team ventured forward again and Eto'o, once more, found himself on the penalty spot with only the goalkeeper to beat. This time his effort clipped off Dida and looked to be heading into the net before Costacurta intervened to hook the ball over the crossbar.
On his return to action following a virus, Filippo Inzaghi posed a threat to the hosts, and only a combination of Rafael Márquez's defensive presence and the Italian international's poor control during one dangerous moment prevented the striker recording a shot on goal. Inzaghi's coach Carlo Ancelotti had said beforehand that he felt Ronaldinho was unstoppable and duly employed a plan to shackle the Brazilian playmaker, but the Barça No10 broke free in the 20th minute and sent a powerful drive just over Dida's bar.
Change of tack
Having tested the aerial capability of the Blaugrana back four with a series of high balls, Milan made inroads when they attacked at pace on the floor. The result was Andriy Shevchenko firing into the side-netting after beating Barcelona's offside trap and Inzaghi lifting a header over from close range. At the other end, the Spanish champions-elect continued to keep the Milan rearguard on their toes, with Juliano Belletti and Ludovic Giuly both flashing attempts across the face of goal and wide of the far post.
This intensity continued unabated after the interval and both sides looked to probe and pass as they sought a weakness in their opponents' make-up. There was no desperation from an experienced Milan team who knew that one goal would suffice and they began to dominate possession as Barça sat back. Four minutes after the restart, Clarence Seedorf clipped the ball into the box where Shevchenko dived to head into the arms of Víctor Valdés, before Inzaghi nodded wide from a Stam centre.
In between times, Ronaldinho showed further flashes of brilliance, picking out Giuly at the far post on two occasions, but the French international failed to trouble the keeper. Ronaldinho also curled two free-kicks past the wall, but Dida, his compatriot in Milan's goal, clasped each delivery to his chest.
After substitute Cafu had headed one opportunity over, Shevchenko thought he had equalised when he rose to meet a high ball and directed it past Valdés, only for the referee to rule it out for a push on Carles Puyol. Another replacement, Henrik Larsson, almost made an instant impact when he moved around Serginho to meet an Eto'o cross and draw a point-blank save from Dida which kept Milan in the tie.
Room to exploit
As the visitors pushed forward, Barcelona took advantage of the gaps and Deco squandered the invitation to score a second, conclusive goal when played in by Ronaldinho, opting to try his luck from distance and driving straight at Dida. It mattered not in the final analysis, though, as Rijkaard's men advanced to play Arsenal FC in the Paris final on 17 May.