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Stage set for Italy's finest

Manchester can bring the best out of finalists Juventus FC and AC Milan.

Final countdown: Seedorf’s triumphs

By Adam Szreter in Manchester

Ask most people in Manchester what they expect in terms of entertainment from this year's UEFA Champions League final and they will doubtless take Italian pragmatism to prevail over romance and imagination.

Theatre of Football
But regardless of the ultra-professionalism of both clubs, and of how well the two teams know each other, suppose the players are inspired by meeting not at San Siro or Delle Alpi for once, but in a neutral, foreign arena: Manchester United FC's self-styled Theatre of Dreams which, for one night only, becomes Europe's Theatre of Football.

Rise to the occasion
Certainly there are players on both sides who can rise to such an occasion, none more so than Juventus FC's captain and talisman Alessandro Del Piero, and AC Milan's mercurial Portuguese playmaker Rui Costa. True, we will miss the suspended Pavel Nedved, possibly Europe's outstanding player this year, but for that at least Milan's followers will be thankful.

'Perfect venue'
"This is the perfect venue to play a match like the Champions League final," said Del Piero at today's press conference at Old Trafford. "In the final everything can happen. I cannot say if there will be many goals. I just know that in order to achieve the result we want, we have to play a great match."

Ancelotti impressed
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti was impressed by the presence of so many members of the press. "It makes me understand once again how important this match is," he said. "We're playing abroad against another Italian side and obviously this is the most important, most beautiful and most stimulating match it's possible to play for the clubs who are involved."

Ronaldo hat-trick
Those who believe players are not influenced by the stage on which they perform should cast their minds back to the Champions League quarter-final second leg at Old Trafford. Ronaldo, arguably the world's greatest player, produced his best performance for the outgoing European champions Real Madrid CF, scoring a hat-trick and leaving the field to an unforgettable standing ovation.

Sporting public
That kind of sporting gesture, from a Manchester public that knows a good thing when it sees one, lies in wait for any player who can make this game his own. Will it be Milan midfield player Clarence Seedorf, trying to become the first player to win the Champions League three times with three different clubs? Or Seedorf's Dutch compatriot Edgar Davids, so influential for Juventus in seeing off Madrid in the semi-finals?

World class
Elsewhere there are world-class strikers in Filippo Inzaghi, David Trezeguet and Andriy Shevchenko, any of whom could be the match-winner, while Milan can afford the luxury of leaving the brilliant Brazilian Rivaldo, a  former FIFA World Player of the Year, on their bench. "Both Milan and Juve have already shown during the current Champions League campaign that they can play spectacular matches," said Juve coach Marcello Lippi.

No motivation needed
"However, the occasion is so important that I don't think we need extra motivation. I cannot guarantee it will be a spectacular match, but a match like the Champions League final is already so exciting that we surely don't need any extra motivation." His counterpart Ancelotti was equally positive, echoing the words of Del Piero and promising a night to remember: "Maybe Italian football is a bit different from the football played in other parts of the continent, but it's nothing we have to be ashamed of," he said.

'Great match' expected
"We have to be proud for having reached the semi-finals with three teams and the final with two. We are two extremely well-organised sides and with great individual players. Obviously the result is what really counts, but I think we can only achieve the result we want only if we play a great match."