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AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti described his side's 2-1 victory against Liverpool FC as the "greatest" of his career after two Filippo Inzaghi goals ensured the Rossoneri lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy for the seventh time in Athens on Wednesday.
Ancelotti was twice a European Champion Clubs' Cup winner with Milan as a player and he triumphed again as coach of this team in 2003, but nothing, he said, could match the feeling experienced at the OACA Spyro Louis Stadium. "It is the greatest victory we've had," he said. "Few people believed we could do it, but we've done something extraordinary. Very few people or fans expected Milan to win this most important of trophies this season, perhaps nobody expected it."
Docked points at the start of the campaign for their part in Italy's sporting fraud trial, Milan were forced to kick off in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round. Poor form in Serie A then put Ancelotti's position in doubt, but as he basked in the glory of tonight's success, his gold winners' medal glinting brightly under the camera lights, the 47-year-old insisted nothing could come between him and the club. "When I think back to December, we had to overcome so many hurdles so that makes it a very special victory.
"We maintained great harmony despite the troubles. My market value, so to speak, has increased but my relationship with Milan is very strong. Apart from the cups I've won, it's a special relationship for me. What I've achieved is due to the fact I feel I belong to Milan. I wore this shirt as a player, and winning major trophies wearing the shirt certainly makes my feelings and relationship with Milan strong."
For Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez, there was obvious disappointment that his charges had failed to hit the heights of 2005 when they overcame Milan on penalties in the final. Yet there was also determination to build on this performance. "First of all, congratulations to Milan, they're a very good team," he said. "Thank you to our supporters, my staff and players who worked really hard and deserved a bit more. In the first half we controlled the game, pushing forward, creating chances. But we conceded a bad goal, a deflection, at the end of the first half. In football you need to take your chances and score goals. When you win you're really pleased, when you lose you have to think about why and start thinking about the future. You could see the quality they had, and we need to start thinking how we can improve our team."
Paying the price
Chasing the game in the second half, Benítez was forced to take risks, and ultimately Milan took advantage of the extra space afforded them when Peter Crouch came on for Javier Mascherano late on. Inzaghi scored the second with eight minutes left, and though Dirk Kuyt pulled one back for Liverpool in the last minute, there was no repeat of the heroics of Istanbul. "The problem when you play Milan is that they are well organised and good on the counter, and you could see in the second half we attacked and left space in between which Kaká could run into it. You need to attack with balance and when you lose that balance, one opportunity can kill you."
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