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Bodog.com Soccer Wagering - 2007 Champions League Final - Online Sportsbook Betting

2007 Champions League Final Preview

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It's been two years since Liverpool's legendary comeback victory over AC Milan in the Champions League final. Now, the Rossonieri have a chance to exact their revenge

May 22, 2007

By Mike Halford
Bodog Nation Contributing Writer

Exorcisms are no longer reserved for Linda Blair and Emily Rose. On Wednesday night in Athens, Greece, AC Milan plans to evict a demon.

Kaka

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For the last two years, the ghost of Liverpool has haunted the Rossonieri. In the 2005 Champions League final, the Milan-based club capitulated to the Reds after racing out to what appeared to be an insurmountable 3-0 halftime lead. The final ended 3-3 after extra time, and Liverpool returned the trophy to English soil in a 3-2 penalty-shootout shocker.

The loss was widely regarded as the biggest collapse in football history. At 3-0 down, odds on Liverpool winning the match were available at 350-1 with many bookmakers. Things have gone absolutely pear-shaped at the San Siro since the infamous Milan collapse; the team was embroiled in the Serie A scandal and has failed to capture any hardware domestically or in competition abroad since falling apart against the ‘Pool.

Nearly two years to the day, AC Milan and Liverpool once again clash for European bragging rights in a match filled with intriguing subplots. The two clubs are both in the top three most successful teams in terms of European Cup titles – Liverpool (five) and Milan (six) trail only Real Madrid (nine) in total trophies.  The match also features the two highest-scoring players in the competition, as Liverpool’s Peter Crouch (six goals) duels with Milan’s Kaka (10), the likely favorite to capture the Champions League Golden Boot.

But make no mistake about it – the focal point of this match is what happened in 2005. Milan returns 11 players who dressed for the nightmare of two years ago, including rugged midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, who admitted to reporters that he’s yet to summon up “the strength and courage” to watch the full 2005 final again.

Onto the match, then:

Goalkeeping

Edge: Liverpool

With Jerzey Dudek – the unsung hero of the 2005 victory – banished to a reserve role, Jose “Pepe” Reina has firmly established himself as Liverpool’s go-to man in net. The son of famed Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Miguel Reina Santos, Reina has built a reputation as a fundamentally sound net minder with remarkable acumen for stopping penalties.

Teammates Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt have gone on record proclaiming Reina to be the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment; anyone who witnessed his sterling shootout performance against Chelsea in the semifinals would have a hard time arguing.

While Dida has been a tower of strength for Milan, one must wonder about his health after struggling through the first injury-plagued campaign of his career. After returning from a quadriceps tear in November that sidelined him for nearly two months, he was shelved again in January with ligament damage in his right shoulder. There remains a bit of rust on the big Brazilian and it could prove costly against a Liverpool team known for a quick counterattack.

Defense

Edge: AC Milan

Milan boasts 38-year-old Paolo Maldini, arguably the finest center back to ever play the game. Flanked by Marek Jankulovski (30), Dario Simic (31) and Cafu (36), the Milan backline oozes experience and big-game savvy – each is an integral part of their respective national teams, while Maldini and Cafu have both captured World Cup titles playing for Italy and Brazil, respectively.

Expect to see a heated aerial battle between Maldini and 6-7 Liverpool striker Peter Crouch.  Long known for his sublime talent at winning challenges in the air, the Italian stalwart will have his hands full trying to contain the tallest player to ever suit up for the Reds. Crouch is on form at the moment – much will be expected of him vs. Maldini given the fact he has a half-foot height advantage over the AC Milan rearguard.

Despite the superior quality of the Milan backline, it is actually Liverpool that has the stingier goals against average. Allowing just eight goals through 12 games (0.67 per), the Reds are paced by the shutdown style of Irishman Steve Finnan, who along with Finn Sami Hyypia, have contained the likes of Chelsea’s Didier Drogba, PSV Eindhoven’s Patrick Kluivert and Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho – an impressive list of snuffed strikers.

Midfield

Edge: AC Milan

There isn’t much debate that Kaka is the best player on the planet right now.  The Milan frontrunner leads the Champions League in goals and shots on goal (27) while assisting on another two tallies for good measure. But he’s not all that Milan boasts in the middle of the park. Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf was brilliant in the two legs of the semifinal against Manchester United, while fierce-tackling Gattuso (Ringhio or, “the Snarler” as he’s known in Italy) has been a menace throughout the competition and will likely draw the assignment of tracking Liverpool’s all-world center midfielder Gerrard in the final.

What makes the midfield battle all the more interesting is that Reds fullback John Arne Riise went on the offensive this week, claiming that AC Milan “don’t like playing against teams like us,” and “they looked like they struggled against the physical aspect – it is not something they enjoy facing.”

The notion here, of course, is that Liverpool has a physical midfield that will put some sort of fear into the Rossonieri.  Umm, no.  Seedorf and Gattuso are two of the most physically punishing midfielders in the game; if anything, it will be Liverpool that has to adjust to the tenacious, relentless style the two employ. It is because of the yeoman-like work of this pair that Kaka is free to roam offensively.

Forwards

Edge: Liverpool

The edge here is in depth. The Reds throw out a myriad of lineups, each offering a unique style of offense.  In Peter Crouch, Liverpool can play the long ball and attack aerially, utilizing the flanks and whipping in crosses with abandon. In Kuyt, it can provide an exceptional work-rate, a player who will harass opposing defenders and mesh with just about any frontrunner he’s lined up alongside.  In Craig Bellamy and Robbie Fowler, it has two cagey strikers with noses for goal, both lethal when going at defenders one-on-one.

Milan is a unique attacking team given that most of their goal scoring is provided from the midfield. Two of their three leading scorers this season – Kaka (18) and Seedorf (10) - are halfbacks, while only one striker registered double-digits in goals (Alberto Gilardino, with 16). Still, they do have quality up front in the form of Filippo Inzaghi and Brazilian Ricardo Oliveira, yet lack the options that Liverpool can put out under any circumstance.

In Closing

The game looks as though it’ll be decided in the midfield, where three of the players most familiar with the disappointment of 2005 – Kaka, Seedorf and Gattuso – will be keen to exact their collective revenge on Liverpool.  It should be a hotly contested affair, but in the end, the Italians will exorcise the demons.

Final Score: AC Milan 3, Liverpool 1

TOP PHOTO: Kaka has been on form throughout Champions League play, and will look to capture the title in Athens on Wednesday. (AP Images)


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