Milan are preparing for a place in history

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The Independent Online
Ajax have twice beaten Milan this season in the Champions' League but the smart money is on the holders to overcome the young Dutch team in the European Cup final in Vienna on 24 May.

"The Dutch are a good side but we'll be in decent shape this time, too," Zvonimir Boban said after Milan's 2-0 semi-final win over Paris St-Germain at the San Siro put the Italians into a third successive final 3-0 on aggregate.

Ajax beat Milan at home and away last autumn at a time when the Italians were desperately out of form. The Milan coach, Fabio Capello, insisted at the time that his side were suffering a World Cup hangover: Milan supplied seven of the Italian squad beaten on penalties by Brazil in the final last July.

Milan's early season jitters have ruled them out of the title race, with Juventus likely to claim the championship, but they are now intent on matching Real Madrid's record of six European Cup triumphs. Milan's Dejan Savicevic in particular has hit peak form in the competition. Savicevic, a European Cup winner with Red Star Belgrade in 1991 and the inspiration behind Milan's 4-0 mauling of Barcelona in last year's final, scored both goals against PSG on Wednesday night to finish off the French champions.

The Milan captain, Franco Baresi, 35 next month and possibly in his last season with at the San Siro, was a part of the defensive rock on which PSG's much-vaunted strike force of George Weah and David Ginola were dashed.

"We created hardly any chances in either game," admitted the PSG coach, Luis Fernandez, after the French club had suffered their third successive European semi-final elimination. The Parisians had possession in abundance but were given no room to prosper in midfield by Milan's familiar pressing game. When Milan had the ball, the quality of passing from the midfielders Demetrio Albertini and Marcel Desailly, more renowned for their defensive abilities, was impressive.

Albertini, still only 23, appears to have added an attacking dimension to his game in recent months while Desailly is on the verge of completing a European Cup hat-trick after playing in the Marseille team that upset Milan in 1993 (though they were later stripped of the Cup) and then picked up another winners' medal with the Italians last year.

Next month's final will be Milan's fifth in seven seasons and the clash with the brilliant young Ajax side has the makings of a classic. "Ajax are good but Milan must be favourites for the final. They're a stronger all-round team," Fernandez said.

Milan's pursuit of domestic glory continues this weekend, in common with their rivals, without some of their foreign contingent. The Italian football federation has registered a formal protest about the mass exodus of key players from Serie A games to play for national teams.

More than 20 Italian-based players have been called up for next week's European Championship qualifiers and will not be available for their clubs on Sunday. In fax messages sent to Fifa and Uefa, the world and European ruling bodies, the Italian federation asked: "That foreign players based in Italy might be allowed to join their national squads on Sunday night after having taken part in Sunday's Italian championship fixtures."

Current rulings by both Fifa and Uefa stipulate that national coaches can request their players to join their squads five days before a competitive international on at least seven occasions per season, meaning that they miss Sunday matches.

Ironically, Italy's own internationals will be released to the Italy coach, Arrigo Sacchi, on Sunday evening only, even though the Azurri have a European Championship qualifier away to Lithuania next week.

The most important game affected by the foreign exodus is Sunday's Rome derby between Roma and Lazio. Lazio will be without their Croat striker, Alen Boksic, and the Dutch midfielder, Aaron Winter, both on international duty. Roma will be without the midfielder Jonas Thern, who is playing for Sweden. Their difficulties are compounded by a knee injury to their Uruguyan striker Daniel Fonseca.

Bayern Munich, outclassed by Ajax in the midweek semi-finals, have suffered another setback before their crucial game with the Bundesliga leaders, Borussia Dortmund, tomorrow.

The Bayern team, already deprived of the experience of the captain Lothar Matthus and Jean-Pierre Papin through long-term injuries, learned yesterday that Thomas Helmer will miss the game in Munich because of a thigh injury. The German champions, humbled 5-2 by Ajax in the Dutch capital on Wednesday, now have a battle to qualify for a Uefa Cup place next season. With eight games remaining, the Bavarians are sixth, six points behind Dortmund. Helmer, who has also been ruled out of Germany's European Championship qualifier with Wales next Wednesday, is a vital part of their defence.

Bayern have already invested in players for next season, including Werder Bremen's talented Austrian midfielder, Andreas Herzog, and the club's coach, Otto Rehhagel. But the champions could end up with an expensive team and no money-spinning European football.