Football / European Cup Final: Marseille aim to prove Milan are mortal: Phil Shaw, in Munich, looks forward to tonight's European Cup final

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The Independent Online
NEARLY four decades have passed since France, in the form of a visionary journalist from L'Equipe, gave Europe the Champions' Cup. Tonight, in what promises to be the Mediterranean-style heat of the Olympic Stadium, Marseille will again attempt to win it back.

History, as well as the formidable powers of Milan, is against them. The French Book of Success in Continental Competitions is an even slimmer volume than our own Royal Compendium of Happy Marriages, for not one of the country's six previous finalists in the three tournaments have been victorious.

On this occasion, however, Marseille have brought more than the weather with them, arriving in Bavaria with a squad who look both fitter and fresher than the four-time winners and favourites. Indeed, Milan may enter their most important match of the season in their worst mental and physical condition.

After appearing invincible during the first half of the campaign, Fabio Capello's men have recently betrayed the attritional effects of being the team to beat. Parma and Juventus, the new Cup-Winners' Cup and Uefa Cup holders, both defeated them, and an 11-point advantage is down to four.

While Milan need only one point to retain their title - as do Marseille - a record of one win in 10 games shows they are mortal after all. Ghana's Abedi Pele and Alen Boksic, of Croatia, will be particularly keen to test the veracity of reports that Franco Baresi and Mauro Tassotti are looking their age (33) at the back.

Milan will also be without key personnel. Marco van Basten will play, in tandem with Daniele Massaro, despite having started only two matches since December because of ankle problems.

But Capello's preference for the 32-year-old Massaro means that the best Jean-Pierre Papin can hope for after injury is a place on the bench. If Capello decides to make Ruud Gullit, another spring casualty, his third foreigner, Papin will miss out altogether.

In contrast, the French striker's former club report a clean bill of health. There is just the small matter of hurdling that psychological barrier, as their owner, Bernard Tapie, admitted yesterday.

'I've tried to calm the players - they've played the final several times in their minds and risk being devoured by tension,' the hands-on president and Socialist MP said, talking as ever as if he, and not the 72-year-old Raymond Goethals, were the manager. 'We can only succeed if we take every opportunity Milan give us.'

The Italian champions' record in this season's tournament - played 10, won 10, goals for 23, goals against one - suggests that whatever their problems of late, they will not be over-generous.

Marseille, who will draw heart from their semi-final victory two years ago when Milan sought refuge in a floodlight failure, may have to display the kind of adventure not normally associated with this event if they are to end France's 38-year wait.

Marseille (probable): Barthez; Boli, Angloma, Desailly, Di Meco, Eydelie or Thomas, Deschamps, Sauzee, Pele, Boksic, Voller.

Milan: Rossi; Tassotti, Maldini, Costacurta, Baresi, Albertini, Rijkaard, Lentini, Donadoni, Van Basten, Massaro.

Referee: K Roethlisberger (Switzerland).

Ernie Walker, the former Scottish FA secretary who is now Uefa's head of stadia security, confirmed yesterday that forged tickets for the final were in circulation. The fakes - 'some of the best I've ever seen,' Walker said - are for the Milan standing section of the 64,500-capacity ground. Those found in possession can watch the match on giant screens within the stadium complex.