Milan AC face a seemingly impossible mission when they host BV Borussia Dortmund in tonight's UEFA Cup semi-final second leg and attempt to overturn a 4-0 first-leg deficit.
To succeed the Italian side will need their most experienced, wisest heads to be at their best - not least Demetrio Albertini. Like Tomáš Rosicky, his 21-year-old rival in Dortmund's midfield, Albertini was a prodigious talent as a youngster, making his debut for Milan as a 17-year-old. At 30, the player they call the "Metronome" is still ticking along at the top and if the Czech Republic player ends up having half as good a career as the Italian he will have done well.
A rare talent
Rosicky, though, is a rare talent. He first came to the attention of a wider audience during EURO 2000™, when at the age of 19, he looked perfectly at home alongside the continent's finest midfield players. He was a surprise call-up for that championship but his nimble feet and equally nimble mind soon made him a mainstay of the Czech Republic side.
Immediately after EURO 2000™ he was one of the most sought-after players in Europe and it was inevitable that AC Sparta Praha would be unable to hold on to him. He was courted by Italian, English, French and Spanish clubs, but German football's special relationship with the Czech Republic meant it was inevitable that he would choose the 1. Bundesliga as the place where he would further his career. The fact that he chose Dortmund in preference to FC Bayern München was a great coup for Matthias Sammer and the Dortmund club.
His boyish looks made some think he was too young for such a move but as Pavel Kuka, the former Czech Republic striker, said at the time, "perhaps it doesn't matter when a player is as talented and has such a good attitude as Tomás". While he won a Czech league winners’ medal with Sparta, he still has a long way to go before he can start comparing honours with the five-times Scudetto and once UEFA Champions League-winning Albertini.
Both are perceptive passers and although Albertini may be more of a recognised ball-winner, Rosicky's youthful appearance belies a combative streak which came notably to the fore in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup when he led Dortmund to an emphatic victory against his Czech Republic adversaries, FC Slovan Liberec. It was particularly apposite that the crucial goalless draw in the first leg should have been at the Letná stadium, his old Sparta stamping ground.
Albertini has been plagued by injury over the last couple of seasons but with a major championship in the offing once more and possibly the chance to atone for two runners-up medals at the 1994 FIFA World Cup and EURO 2000™, not to mention the anti-climactic 1990 World Cup in Italy, he can surely be relied upon to produce one last hurrah. Besides, an Italy midfield without him would not seem the same and it would certainly miss the rhythm which the "Metronome" has brought to it for so long.
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