Paolo Maldini insists AC Milan's defeat of FC Bayern München was no less emphatic a statement of intent than Manchester United FC's dismantling of AS Roma.
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While acknowledging that Manchester United FC have improved since their last UEFA Champions League meeting with AC Milan in 2005, Paolo Maldini warns that the Rossoneri are underestimated at any team's peril. "The fact we're in the semi-final shows our class," said the 38-year-old.
On the eve of the first leg at Old Trafford, Maldini sidestepped questions about a possible duel with Cristiano Ronaldo as comfortably as he has many an opponent during a 23-year career which has brought four winners' medals in club football's premier competition. The last came in 2003 when Milan overcame compatriots Juventus in the final at Old Trafford – the scene of Tuesday's game.
'Up to the task'
Milan returned to Manchester in 2005 and beat their hosts 1-0 en route to a 2-0 aggregate success in the first knockout round. Noting the Premiership leaders' subsequent improvement, Maldini said: "Manchester United are a better team now than a couple of years ago, particularly as some players have matured and developed like Ronaldo and [Wayne] Rooney. But there's no doubt we're up there with them and are up to the task."
Statement of intent
The former Italy captain feels Milan's 2-0 victory at FC Bayern München in the quarter-finals was as much a statement of intent as was United's 7-1 demolition of AS Roma. "When United saw our performance against Bayern they would certainly have thought that it would have been better to face them [Bayern] in the semi-finals than us. We have huge respect for Manchester United but no fear.
"They play wonderful football, especially here, so what happened against Roma will have no impact on our dressing room and how we approach the game. I'm proud to be here and be captain of my team. We're motivated by the fact we want to win the Champions League, which has been our main aim throughout this season. We have always been a leading club in Europe, and Italy, over the last 20 years and we want to show why."
Maldini says his "great passion" for the game is what keeps him going in his 39th year, "and makes me want to keep on playing and winning things". Ensuring Ronaldo and Rooney stay quiet – as he did so comfortably in 2005 – may be key to adding to his trophy collection, although he reveals that Milan have no special plans for United's Portuguese tormentor-in-chief: "Ronaldo has everything – he's fast, good in the air, scores goals and is creative – but we don't man mark any players so, to a certain extent, he'll decide who marks him by where he is on the pitch."
Sir Alex praise
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had earlier singled Maldini out as his favourite European player of the last 15 years, highlighting a peerless display against Bayern in which the central defender "didn't make a tackle". Maldini's unerring knack of being in the right place at the right time will be tested to the extreme in Manchester, but he stresses – if needed – that there is life in the old legs yet. "Maybe I'm not as fast as I used to be but I'm still pretty quick," he said with a smile. Ronaldo has been warned.