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Young playmakers hold the key

Tomáš Rosicky and Andrea Pirlo are two young craftsmen destined to become world famous.

Two young craftsmen destined to become world famous debate superiority in the UEFA Cup semi-final on Thursday and whoever comes out on top could hold the key to deciding whether it is BV Borussia Dortmund or Milan AC who emerges through to the final in Rotterdam on 8 May.

Well-documented potential
Tomáš Rosicky's potential, of course, has been well documented in recent seasons and Dortmund are benefiting greatly as the Czech Republic international grows in experience and maturity. In contrast Andrea Pirlo has still hardly moved off first base in his career but has shown enough already to be spoken of in glowing terms.

Onus on Rosicky
In the first leg at the Westfalenstadion, with the German team looking to make home advantage count, the onus is on Rosicky to come to the fore. Coach Matthias Sammer will be more than happy if his midfield playmaker performs as influentially as he did in the quarter final second-leg victory over FC Slovan Liberec when his perceptive use of the ball continually unhinged his fellow-countrymen.

Speed and creativity
Many doubted Dortmund's wisdom when they outbid rivals FC Bayern München to pay AC Sparta Praha €13.3m for Rosicky in 2001 but his speed and creativity has already made that valuation appear a little mean. The composure he shows for one who won't turn 22 until October is frightening at times.

Hard fight
Pirlo has had to fight harder to make his mark and it is only now, following his move from Internazionale FC to Milan last summer, that he is beginning to flourish on the big stage. Even then he spent most of the first half of the season on the periphery of the team and has to mix his starting appearances with periods on the substitute's bench.

Force in the making
Nevertheless Pirlo's team-mates at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium have no doubt that he is a major force in the making and ready to show at senior international level the skills that shone out as he helped Italy to success in the 2000 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, scoring the winning goal in the final against the Czech Republic. Fellow midfield player Massimo Ambrosini is already praising him as "world-class" and claiming he is destined to become the world's finest playmaker.

Best game to date
Last weekend Pirlo enjoyed probably his best game to date in a Milan shirt helping to turn the match with Parma AC after replacing Serginho at half-time. His free-kick put Milan ahead and his clever pass set up Filippo Inzaghi for the third goal. He is under renewed pressure to hold on to his place with Manuel Rui Costa now fit again but many Milan observers believe that the 22-year-old should now be a fixture in the side.