US students to see Champions League final

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> The short flight to Athens is an easy journey for the thousands of Liverpool and AC Milan fans who want to watch their teams in the Champions League final.

Updated: May 23, 2007 15:45 IST
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Athens, Greece:

The short flight to Athens is an easy journey for the thousands of Liverpool and AC Milan fans who want to watch their teams in the Champions League final.

For American fans Dan Dahlin and Ian Smith, both 20-year-old students from Wyoming, the trip involved a lot more air time and even a few transfers.

"We were traveling for about 36 hours," Smith said. "But it was worth it."

Dahlin won the chance to buy two of the 70,000 tickets to Wednesday's match in a lottery on UEFA's Web site. When it came time to pick a travel partner, Smith was an easy choice.

"He loves soccer as much as I do," said Dahlin, an international studies student at the University of Wyoming who is heading into his final year. "We've been playing together our whole lives."

The pair grew up on the soccer fields of Jackson, Wyoming. But when it comes to Wednesday's match at the Olympic Stadium, the friends will become rivals - at least temporarily.

"Liverpool," Dahlin said. "I've been following them the whole time. (Steven) Gerrard's always going full speed."

Smith backs the Italians.

"I got to see Italy last year at the World Cup and Milan has some of their players on the team," said Smith, a literature major with two years to go at the University of Colorado. "(Andrea) Pirlo is the best set-piece guy in the game.

"I love Kaka, too. He's the best player in the world right now."

Tickets from Heineken

Business partners Tom McCormack and Joe Dunne got their tickets from Heineken, one of the competition's main sponsors. The Irishmen own a string of bars in both Boston and Dublin, and they came to Athens despite being ardent Manchester United supporters.

"We booked this trip before (Man United lost to Milan in) the semifinals," said the 43-year-old McCormack, who admitted he would cheer for Liverpool on Wednesday because his son is a fan of the five-time European Cup champions.

Dunne, however, will be hoping Milan wins its seventh title.

"Football-wise, Milan play a lot better," said the 46-year-old Dunne, who splits his time living in Dublin and Boston.

John-Arlid Paulsen, a 31-year-old bus driver from Haugesund, Norway, flew to Athens to support Liverpool.

"I grew up with Liverpool," said Paulsen, wearing a Liverpool shirt and scarf, and a FK Haugesund hat. "It's been a part of my life since I was a little boy."

For most soccer fans on the continent, the European leagues are easy to follow. But that's not the case for Dahlin and Smith.

"We don't get to watch enough," Smith said. "I didn't even get to see any AS Roma games before the Champions League."

And not even David Beckham's arrival in Major League Soccer to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy will be enough for the soccer-hungry American students.

"He's obviously shifting away from soccer to the movies," Smith said. "Bend it like Beckham III."

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