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AC Milan left-back Luca Antonini will make his UEFA Champions League debut on Tuesday in his side's decisive Group C trip to FC Zürich, and coach Leonardo believes the 27-year-old is worthy of his chance.
Massimo Oddo's thigh injury and Gianluca Zambrotta's suspension have opened up the chance to Antonini. The Milan academy product played for nine other clubs between 2001 and 2008 as he found his way to the Rossoneri lineup blocked before a permanent return last season. The versatile Antonini made only his fourth Serie A appearance of 2009/10 with an impressive display in Saturday's 3-0 win against UC Sampdoria and is now set to begin Tuesday's game at Zürich, where Milan must win to be sure of a place in the last 16.
The former Italian youth international is not unfamiliar with the Letzigrund stadium, having helped Milan to a 1-0 UEFA Cup first round win here last season. The year before he visited Zürich at the same stage while on loan at Empoli FC, scoring in a 2-1 home victory but losing the second leg 3-0 in Switzerland. "It is a vital game for us," Antonini said. "We know what we have to do to win. I know Zurich well, it's a beautiful city and I like to play here."
Leonardo, whose side are aiming to reverse their surprise home loss to Zürich on Matchday 2, is delighted Antonini's time has come. "I am happy for Luca," Leonardo said. "He has a beautiful story, and now he has the chance to do good things for Milan. He has put on good performances and has pleased me."
On the opposite flank to Antonini will be another Milan product who has faced a long wait to make a breakthrough, and who indeed also was at Empoli when they faced Zürich in 2007/08, Ignazio Abate. Leonardo is pleased that fringe squad members have been able to come in with good effect. "This team and these players are the proof Milan can make changes without seeing their performances weaken," he said. "Today, we have real alternatives. I rely on them."
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