Del Piero drifts and lets another grand occasion pass him by

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The Independent Online

For the two men who symbolise these greatest of Italian clubs, this was a night of decisive contrasts.

On most days at Milan's training ground, Paolo Maldini passes a framed photograph of his father, Cesare, lifting the club's first European Cup in 1963 at Wembley. Now, after a fifth European final and a first in eight years, he can place his own picture alongside it. That the triumph should also come in England would be a neat coincidence.

It was won on the kind of still, humid night they know too well in Milan and with the kind of ruthless defending for which Italian football is famous. For Alessandro Del Piero, the symbol of Juventus, there was not just a fourth defeat in a major European final to ponder but another occasion on which a great performance on the grand stage has eluded him. The only thing he did well was to take Juventus's final penalty, which, had he missed, would have ensured their defeat. It delayed matters for one kick.

Del Piero resembles David Beckham not only in his media profile and his ability to strike a dead ball beautifully, but also in that many believe his reputation to be vastly inflated. This was his fourth European Cup final and only in one, the shockingly unexpected defeat to Borussia Dortmund, did he score ­ and it is worth pointing out he did not start that match in Munich.

When, having unwisely used all his substitutes, Carlo Ancelotti saw Roque Junior pull a muscle, his Milan side were effectively reduced to 10 men. There were then nearly 30 minutes of extra time remaining and, astonishingly, Juventus applied little pressure and received less leadership from their captain, Del Piero.

The longer and more aimlessly the match went on, the more ineffectual he became, although he was not alone. The absence of the suspended Pavel Nedved, so often Del Piero's provider, and the presence in Milan's defence of Maldini, Nesta and Costacurta ­ an Italian equivalent of the great rearguard George Graham fashioned at Arsenal ­ suggested Old Trafford would prove a more testing arena than any of the previous three European Cups he had been involved in. Mauro Camoranesi was no kind of replacement for Nedved on Juve's right and it was no surprise to see him replaced at the interval, after which Del Piero drifted into a deeper role.

He did not deserve a winner's medal and nor did Juventus. They had reached the threshold of being crowned champions of Europe after losing to five sides, including Manchester United twice, Newcastle and the might of Basle. Milan, by contrast, had qualified by beating six teams who had previously won the European Cup. There is no need to add which team merited the title of champions.

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