| CROWNING GLORY! AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini with the cup after winning the Champions League final against Juventus at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Milan won 3-2 on penalties after extra-time ended goalless. (AFP
A goalless, but far from soulless, Champions League final was eventually won by Milan on penalties at Old Trafford Wednesday. Such had been the exceptional quality of defending that two hours elapsed without these Italian rivals being separated, so leaving the game to be settled by spot-kicks.
Milan had dominated normal time but failed to find a way past Juventus’ outstanding goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, and one of the game’s most dogged defences. Andriy Shevchenko, Filippo Inzaghi and even Paolo Maldini had all threatened for Milan but discovered Buffon in world-class form.
Juventus’ best chance fell to Antonio Conte, who hit Milan’s bar with a header. Full of good technique, this was an intriguing 120-minute chess match played at deteriorating speed, although not quite living up to the occasion.
Both sets of supporters contributed fully to a match watched by an estimated half a billion around the globe, having basked in the early-evening sunshine in Manchester and then turned Old Trafford into a Serie A stadium for the night. They craved a goal but the defending was too exceptional.
As the game lengthened through extra time, the tempo dropped to walking pace, or hobbling pace for the unfortunate Roque Junior who damaged a hamstring but gamely stayed on, Milan having used all their replacements.
Effectively operating with 10, Milan could have been forgiven for playing for penalties but they still sought to counter-attack. There was little excuse for Juventus’ paucity of ambition, the men in black-and-white happily playing possession football and working the ball around midfield as they awaited spot-kicks.
After the keepers had excelled in the shootout, Shevchenko kept his nerve to drill home Milan’s fifth penalty to win the contest 3-2 (as reported in Thursday’s Late City edition). The match billed as the Italian Job had taken time for anyone to blow the back doors off, a tight, tactical contest unfolding with attackers swamped before they could impose their class.
Buffon was outstanding in goal for Juventus, who also relied on the alertness of Ciro Ferrara, a master at stretching out a leg to flick the ball to safety. Such excellence in the art of defying opponents was much needed by Juventus.
Milan were comfortably the superior side before half-time, attacking with purpose, guiding the ball forward through the clever feet of Rui Costa, always looking for the sweeping runs of Shevchenko or little darts of Inzaghi.
Shevchenko, the Ukrainian raider of strength and speed, thought he had scored after eight minutes, climaxing fine approach play by Rui Costa and Inzaghi with a firm shot that deflected off Ferrara past Buffon.
Milan’s celebrations were brutally interrupted by the sight of a linesman’s flag fluttering upwards, rightly signalling that Rui Costa was in an active offside position close to Buffon.
Juventus’ accomplished keeper was soon showing why ‘the Old Lady’ spent £32 million to entice him from Parma. Buffon’s save from Inzaghi in the 17th minute was astonishing. Paolo Montero, initially embarrassed at left-back, surprisingly played the ball to Shevchenko.
Milan’s magnificent No. 7 whipped the ball wide to Clarence Seedorf, whose cross was met by the stooping Inzaghi. The header seemed destined for Juventus’ net, the ball flying fast towards the line until Buffon flung himself across, pushing out his left hand to claw the danger away.
Apart from those uplifting moments when Gianluca Zambrotta was charging down the left, eluding opponents with bustling pace and a neat touch, Juventus were far the more cautious and clearly missed the athletic surges of the suspended Pavel Nedved.
David Trezeguet, largely anonymous, wasted a marvellous opportunity when heading wide from Lilian Thuram’s highly inviting cross. The half finished in fitting fashion with another impressive piece of defending, this time from Alessandro Nesta who blocked from Ferrara.
Juventus exuded a touch more menace after the interval, the substitute Conte beating Dida but not the bar following a good cross from Alessandro del Piero.
The greater threat continued to issue from the white-clad pride of Lombardy and after 75 minutes Inzaghi headed narrowly over from Serginho’s cross.
Juventus (4-4-2): Buffon; Thuram, Tudor (Birindelli 42), Ferrara, Montero; Camoranesi (Conte 46), Tacchinardi, Davids (Zalayeta 64), Zambrotta; Del Piero, Trezeguet.
AC Milan (4-3-1-2): Dida; Costacurta (Roque Junior 65), Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso, Pirlo (Serginho 70), Seedorf; Rui Costa (Ambrosini 86); Inzaghi, Shevchenko.
Referee: Markus Merk (Germany).