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In-form Milan have no fear

BV Borussia Dortmund host a Milan AC side playing their best football of the season.

Like a thoroughbred racehorse hitting its stride down the home straight, Milan AC appear to have rediscovered their form at just the right time of the season and are hoping it could end with them holding the UEFA Cup as well as a prized ticket into next season's UEFA Champions League.

Perfect timing
Milan play the first leg of their UEFA Cup semi-final away to BV Borussia Dortmund today and for the Italian side it is an opportune time to meet their German opponents. Milan are not only winning at present but are winning well, and their opponents slipped up last weekend to weaken their prospects of claiming the 1. Bundesliga title.

Return of key players
It can be no coincidence that Milan are finding their form after seeing a number of key players return to the heat of battle after a period of injury-enforced inactivity. Captain Paolo Maldini has put three months on the sidelines with damaged knee ligaments behind him and showed good form in the recent defeat of Parma AC. 

'I always fear German clubs'
Maldini will play in the Westfalenstadion and will step on to the field holding nothing but respect for the opposition. "I always fear German clubs," he said. "Borussia Dortmund have a good team with no weaknesses. They will certainly play with an offensive style, trying to take control of the game, but so will we." 
Upsurge in form
Maldini has joined other erstwhile injury-absentees Filippo Inzaghi (who scored twice against Parma) and Massimo Ambrosini in helping inspire Milan's upsurge in form which has seen them win their last three league matches to lie just a point behind Bologna in the chase for fourth place in Serie A and the final Champions League place.

Ambrosini confident
Ambrosini said: "We are about to face a hard semi-final but this winning streak gives us great morale, and enthusiasm now plays an essential role. With world-class players like Andrea Pirlo and Pippo Inzaghi in this great condition we don't have to fear Borussia at all."

Midfield quandry
Coach Carlo Ancelotti has to choose between Rui Costa (now fully recovered from injury) and Pirlo for a midfield spot. Forward Andriy Shevchenko did not travel as he continues to nurse an injury. Ancelotti said: "Both teams can go on in the competition. Dortmund have got talented strikers and experienced players."

Lost ground
It will be interesting to note the confidence of the Dortmund team after they lost ground in the German championship race in a 3-2 defeat away by VfB Stuttgart in which second-half goals from Christian Wörns and Jan Koller were not enough to earn Dortmund a point. 

Stinging rebuke
They then walked into a stinging rebuke from coach Matthias Sammer who said his team had to develop a stronger mentality and determination and implored them to stop playing "nonsense football". The Stuttgart loss leaves Dortmund four points behind leaders Bayer 04 Leverkusen but Sammer insists their title challenge is not yet over.

One elusive honour
The Bundesliga club would dearly love to get their hands on the only European honour to have eluded them so far. Winners of the Champions League in 1997, they were beaten in the semi-finals of the same competition the following year and have since struggled to make an impact in European football. 

Lehmann relishing prospect
Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, currently suspended in domestic football, has his own reasons for doing well having had a brief spell at Milan. "You don't get the chance to go through to a European final every year and this is a very special match for me," he said. "I am happy that I will be able to play against my former club."