Tuesday, March 18, 2008

19/04/89: Milan 5-0 Real Madrid, European Cup semi-final, second leg

Behind every great Milan side, it seems, is an era-defining victory over a Spanish superpower. Just as Fabio Capello's cosmopolitan mid-90s collective trounced Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League final, so Arrigo Sacchi's ancestors smashed Real Madrid 5-0 in the 1989 semi-final. This was a top-shelf Real side - in the middle of a run of five consecutive titles, and with a devastating attacking unit of Bernd Schuster, Martin Vazquez, Michel, Hugo Sanchez and Emilio Butragueno (the following season they would score a La Liga record 107 goals). Yet they were obliterated, five down inside an hour and lucky that Milan spent the last half hour savouring the moment.

Fittingly, given the English template that Sacchi had used to revolutionise Italian football, most of the goals had a strong English flavour, with three from crosses and another that was thrillingly route-one. Carlo Ancelotti scored the first, zig-zagging past two in midfield before lashing a 25-yarder through Paco Buyo's feeble flap, and seven minutes Frank Rijkaard rammed in a header from Mauro Tassotti's cross after Madrid were caught short at a short corner. Ruud Gullit made it three on half-time, leaping majestically to head in Roberto Donadoni's inviting cross, and just after the break he knocked down Rijkaard's long pass for Marco Van Basten to thrash in the fourth. Madrid's woe was complete when, from another short corner, Donadoni's near-post drive sneaked past the miserable Buyo. Milan added four more against Steaua Bucharest in an equally one-sided final, but it was here that they made their formal, undeniable application for greatness.

Thanks to The Guardian for this text.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The First 50 Years

A compilation of goals from the first 50 years of the European Cup:

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Milan out of the Champions League, after defeat by Arsenal

And then there were two - Roma and Inter - out of the Italian teams competing in the Champions League. AC Milan went crashing out of the competition last night, defeated soundly at home in the San Siro 0-2 by Arsenal. It brought to a close the dream that Berlusconi's team could end a disastrous season in glory with yet another Champions League title (much as they did last year). The World Club champions must now focus all their attention on a difficult struggle to ensure a fourth-place finish in Serie A, if they're to salvage anything from a season plagued by injuries, dissapointing results, and the ever-present whiff of crisis. It won't be easy, given that competing for the same place are Fiorentina and Juventus.

The rossoneri had pinned most of their hopes on a home advantage and on the youthful shoulders of eighteen year-old Alexandre Pato. Both hopes were misplaced. The home advantage was never likely to be worth much. After all, Milan have suffered some of their worst results at home this season, with a number of shocking defeats and draws - to the point where journalists spoke of the 'curse of the San Siro'. At the same time, travelling to this hugely impressive and daunting stadium has not been a problem in the past for Arsenal. It was the scene, most will remember, of a resounding victory over Milan's other team Internazionale back in 2003.

The defeat just emphasises the pressure put on Pato's shoulders. His debut with the club back in January heralded a return to form in Serie A, with his presence seemingly bringing out the best in team-mates like Kaka. Last night, while he had moments that showed off his talent well, he also managed to stuff up some great chances to put his team in front. In particular he chose the wrong option when Kaka managed to send him a surprising and perfect cross, having broken through the Arsenal defence. The young Brazilian striker also seemed as caught off guard as his opponenets, and sent the ball weekly into the arms of Almunia. Where, though, is the root of the Milan crisis? It's hard to point the finger directly at any one source. Last night mistakes were made by all, including Kaka and Pirlo, who together have played such a big part in most of Milan's success of recent years.

Ancelotti played Inzaghi up front, with Kaka and Pato just behind, perhaps leaving his midfield to open given the energy and attack present in the Arsenal team. Wenger started with Emmanuel Adebayor his lone striker, backed by Alexander Hleb in the midfield. The London team started as they meant to go on, agressively bringing the game to a Milan team that is showing its years. The first half remained without goals, but few could doubt that Arsenal had very much won the battle for superiority throughout.

Despite their dominance, though, goals remained elusive until the closing minutes of the game. In fact, despite being outplayed in most areas of the pitch, Milan did have chances largely on the counter-attack, with both Kaka and Pato causing problems but failing to convert chances into goals. Inzaghi, who in past years has - however gracelessly - has been a deadly finisher, never looked like putting one away last night, and with 25 minutes to go was replaced by Alberto Gilardino. Ancelotti had been criticised throughout the last two seasons for his insistence on playing Gilardino, to the point where the ex-Parma striker has had precious few starts in Serie A of late. Could it be that the constant chopping and changing of the Milan attack, in the attempt to find a winning combination, has simply made each potential striker more rusty. Certainly Inzaghi and Gilardino have not benefited from their lack of match-time.

The stalemate was eventually broken by the more confident team, when twenty-year-old Catalonian midfielder Francesc "Cesc" Fabregas Soler got the better of his marker,thirty-year-old Genaro 'Rino' Gattuso (ex-Rangers), and powered home a shot from distance that left Milan's Australian goalkeeper Kalac little chance. With minutes to go, it was always unlikely that Milan would come back, and the final nail in the coffin was hammered home by togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor two minutes into injury time. A well deserved and historic victory for Wenger, as Arsenal become the first British team to beat Milan at home.

Monday, March 3, 2008

1982 Aston Villa 1-0 Bayern Munich

The 1982 European Cup football club tournament was won for the first time by Aston Villa in the final against Bayern Munich. The Final is remembered mainly for the performance of young stand-in goalkeeper Nigel Spink who made a host of saves from the experienced Bayern players. Villa's winning goal came from Peter Withe who converted Tony Morley's cross in off the post.