Rijkaard insists Barça can topple old guard of Milan

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The Independent Football

In glamour and prestige there is little to choose between the protagonists in tonight's Champions' League semi-final, first-leg match at San Siro, but in terms of achievement at the highest level Milan stand clear. While Barcelona have won a solitary European Cup, in 1992, they have garnered six.

Few are more aware of the disparity than Frank Rijkaard, the Barcelona coach. Rijkaard was a key figure in Milan's 1989 and 1990 triumphs, scoring the only goal in the latter victory over Sven Goran Eriksson's Benfica.

Alongside him in both finals was Carlo Ancelotti, who tonight will occupy the opposing dug-out. Rijkaard is seeking to emulate Ancelotti and become one of the élite band to have won Europe's premier club competition as a player and manager (the others are Miguel Muñoz, Giovanni Trapattoni and Johan Cruyff) but to do so he must break Milan's sense of destiny.

Since Liverpool's mind-boggling comeback against them in last year's final Milan have become convinced they are fated to win this year. The fortuitous quarter-final dispatch of Lyon has only hardened that conviction.

Luck is with them again tonight as Barcelona, who are unbeaten home and away in this season's competition, are without three significant figures. Lionel Messi and Henrik Larsson are injured and Deco is suspended.

Milan are themselves without Filippo Inzaghi, who has a virus, but they have Alberto Gilardino, Italy's centre-forward, available to deputise. "He's a very important player for us and I am sorry he has had this sickness," Andrei Shevchenko said of Inzaghi yesterday. "His absence will be felt but we have top players who can come in and play an important part in the team."

Paolo Maldini and Cafu are fit to return after injury for Milan's third semi-final in four years. "We are confident - we know how to prepare and interpret games like this," Ancelotti said, adding: "For many Barcelona players this is a new experience."

His old team-mate professed to be unconcerned. "Milan have experience on their side and we have to see how we handle that," Rijkaard said. "But there is always a time when you have to test yourself against a team with more success and experience and now it has come. It is time for a changing of the guard.

"This game is our big opportunity to consolidate ourselves as one of the top clubs. We're a young team that still has a lot of hunger for victories. It's time to show it at the top level."

Milan (probable, 4-3-1-2): Dida; Cafu, Nesta, Kaladze, Maldini*; Gattuso*, Pirlo, Seedorf; Kaka; Shevchenko, Gilardino.

Barcelona (probable, 4-3-3): Valdes; Oleguer*, Puyol, Marquez*, Van Bronkhorst; Motta, Van Bommel*, Edmilson; Giuly, Eto'o, Ronaldinho.

*Suspended from second leg if booked.

Referee: A Sars (France).

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