AC Milan plays Sparta

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> European champions AC Milan play Sparta Prague in the second leg of their Champions League tie on Wednesday.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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AC Milan have dominated their domestic rivals this season and lead Serie A by five points after winning 10 of their last 11 matches. However, that form has not translated into supremacy in Europe, where they lost to unfancied Belgian team Club Bruges and Spain's Celta Vigo in the group phase of the Champions League. On Wednesday, Milan start the return leg against Sparta Prague without their Dutch international midfielder Clarence Seedorf, who suffered a thigh strain during the 3-1 win over Sampdoria at the weekend. Milan favourites Ancelotti said he felt optimistic of progressing after the goalless draw in Prague a fortnight ago. "I think that Milan are favourites, if we consider what we showed during the first leg match. Milan are going to play this game at an excellent time. It is, anyway, a delicately-balanced tie and we have to be very careful, and play in a positive frame of mind, because the score means we cannot afford to be relaxed," said Ancelotti. But Ancelotti said Milan have no margin for error - having failed to capitalise on a raft of scoring chances in the first leg - and they cannot afford to concede an away goal at the San Siro stadium. "They are a team able to express themselves best during their away matches. They are very quick on the counterattack and have excellent midfielders who can constantly join in the attack. Certainly, they can play better than they did in the match they played 15 days ago," he added. Goalscoring draught As for Sparta Prague themselves, they have been suffering something of a goalscoring drought in their last three league games. And playing one of the best defences in Europe - Milan have conceded only 14 goals in 24 league matches - is unlikely to help. Serbian striker Igor Gluscevic is missing due to an ankle injury, and coach Jiri Kotrba will probably deploy just a lone striker, which he admits does not help. "It's not the first time that Milan comes into a match as the favourites. Anyway, even during the first leg (match), they were the favourites but we finished 0-0. And we succeeded in making it tough for them," said Kotrba. Tight defence Kotrba is expected to field a tight defence, with veteran captain and midfielder Karel Poborsky supporting lone striker Jiri Stajner. "I think that the Milan coach is right because we cannot feel free to have an open way of playing with such a team. But if we don't make errors, and if our defence is as solid as it was during the first game, I think the home team will face many problems," added Kotrba. Gluscevic's absence could mean a Champions League debut for Tomas Sivok as recent signing Petr Vorisek is ineligible and three other defensive midfielders, including former Czech Republic skipper Jiri Nemec, left the club during the winter break. The two teams have met five times before in Europe, with the Italians winning three times and the two other encounters ending in goalless draws. Indeed, the Czechs have failed to find the net in any of those five meetings - and that could turn out to be the most significant statistic of them all. (AP)

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