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Champions League: Athens 2007
AC Milan 2, Liverpool 1

AC Milan and Liverpool met in the Champions League final two years ago in Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium, in possibly the greatest final ever: Milan’s Paolo Maldini scored in the first minute, Milan scored twice more (the Argentine Hernan Crespo finding the onion bag both times) before half time. Liverpool came back, scoring three goals in the second half. Liverpool eventually won on penalty kicks, 3-2, which forcibly downgrades the match from greatest to great. Here they were again in Wednesday’s Champions League final, Milan and Liverpool , this time in Athens (can’t ever give the Turks a big event without giving the same to the Greeks within a year or two, if you don’t want to risk a war. And vice versa). Milan was looking for revenge. They looked like they’d get it when they thrashed Manchester United in the semis. They got it against Liverpool, who’ve looked less than stellar most of the year, even though Liverpool played a fine match overall. Mystery of the match: Peter Crouch, who scored six goals for Liverpool in Champions League matches this year (second only to Milan ’s Kaka), was not in the line-up until the last 15 minutes of the game. What the hell was Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool skipper, thinking? From the UK Times:

Strength of will was enough to win the Champions League final on a famous night in Istanbul but, two years on, this was a final decided by details, by individuals and critical moments — and AC Milan enjoyed the best of them. Having seized the lead, the Italians were not going to have the trophy snatched from their grasp, even if Dirk Kuyt’s late goal for Liverpool did, momentarily, raise the prospect of another outrageous Liverpool comeback.

The Dutchman’s 89th- minute header caused a late flurry of excitement, and had Rafael Benítez complaining that his team had not been given the allotted three extra minutes, but the truth was that Milan had shown a cutting edge that their opponents had lacked — not only last night but for much of the season. The Liverpool manager was happy to admit as much afterwards.

Benítez talked enviously of the individual quality of Milan’s forwards and, in doing so, he hoped to remind his American bosses that he needs many millions of pounds to attract the likes of David Villa, Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o this summer.

His use of Steven Gerrard as an auxiliary striker last night may have been tactical but it also highlighted a lack of confidence in the forwards that he himself had brought to Anfield.

Milan had been fortunate with the first, deflected goal from Filippo Inzaghi but they had added to it in the 82nd minute with a second of ruthless efficiency from the striker, running on to Kaká’s through-ball as Jamie Carragher belatedly tried to catch him offside. It was the sort of finish that Liverpool could not muster, and which confirmed to Benítez that he must overhaul his roster of forwards. Only Kuyt is certain to remain.

Peter Crouch was a late substitute but Craig Bellamy did not even make it off the bench. And Robbie Fowler spent his last night as a Liverpool player sat forlornly in the stands. The full story...

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