Milan's motivation goes beyond 2005 final

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> AC Milan has plenty of motivation for its rematch with Liverpool, and the biggest reason isn't its loss to the Reds two years ago.

Updated: May 24, 2007 14:03 IST
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AC Milan has plenty of motivation for its rematch with Liverpool, and the biggest reason isn't its loss to the Reds two years ago.

Like Italy's team that won the World Cup last year, this is a Milan squad that was deeply affected by the Italian match-fixing scandal.

At one point when sanctions were being handed out last year, Milan faced the prospect of being excluded from European play. As it was, the Rossoneri were reduced to qualifying for the Champions League in August, with hardly any training under its belt.

"What we've done this season is extraordinary, considering the difficulties we've faced," coach Carlo Ancelotti said Tuesday. "Milan deserved to reach to reach this final - maybe more than any other squad. Psychologically we're extremely motivated."

Milan began the Serie A season with an eight-point penalty and has climbed up to third place, but still trails league leader Inter Milan by 33 points with one round remaining.

For much of the season, Milan toiled in the lower depths of the standings, and at one point, with half the squad injured at midseason, Ancelotti faced calls to resign or be fired.

"It's been the most difficult season since I've been at Milan. But I think the understanding between me and the squad is why we're in this final," Ancelotti said. "I don't feel like I'm guiding this team, I feel a part of it."

Ancelotti also risked his job when Milan squandered a three-goal lead at halftime of the 2005 final, eventually losing to Liverpool in a shootout.

"The game two years ago is another story. It has nothing to do with this. This is a new adventure," Ancelotti said. "There's a lot of motivation because every time you play a big final there's a lot of motivation."

Kaka the key

Perhaps the biggest difference for Milan from two years ago is the progression of Kaka, who leads the Champions League with 10 goals this season.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez announced Tuesday that his squad will not man-mark Kaka.

"I believe him," Kaka said. "None of the teams have put one man on me this season and I don't think we'll see that in tomorrow's game either."

Milan captain Paolo Maldini is set to play his eighth final, matching the record of Francisco Gento - Real Madrid's legendary winger of the 1950s and '60s.

His biggest worry appears to be Liverpool forward Peter Crouch.

"It's certainly unique having a player that is two meters tall," Maldini said. "Of course we don't even know if he's going to play, but he's certainly an extra weapon."

Maldini missed the second leg of the semifinals with recurring knee problems, but he appeared fit and ready to play in Milan's final training session.

Milan's last major lineup question is whether to start Filippo Inzaghi or Alberto Gilardino at forward, and Ancelotti did not even discuss the subject on Tuesday.

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