AC Milan wins return bout with Liverpool

AC Milan survived pressure from Liverpool in the second half of the Champions League final in Athens yesterday before building on a first-half lead to win the game 2-1 and claim their seventh European Cup. In a tense match at the Olympic Stadium that did not provide the same excitement as when these two teams met in Istanbul two years ago, Liverpool threatened a last-minute comeback when Dirk Kuyt scored a close-range header in the 90th minute but it proved not to be enough. Filippo Inzaghi, Milan’s top scorer in European competition, had rounded Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina to slot home the decisive goal six minutes earlier. It was enough for Milan to claim victory at the same ground in which they won the trophy in 1994. The goal came against the run of play, as Liverpool dominated the second half in the search for an equalizer as the English side sought their sixth European Cup. Their best chance came in the 63rd minute when their charismatic captain Steven Gerrard failed to make the most of a one-on-one with Milan’s Brazilian goalkeeper Dida. Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez threw on Australian winger Harry Kewell and tall striker Peter Crouch but Liverpool were not able to repeat the heroics of two years ago. The Italians had the first shot of the game in the 17th minute through Brazilian midfielder Kaka though it was easily saved by Reina. Liverpool struck back with several long range shots of their own but their best chance came in the 36th minute when Dirk Kuyt’s effort from inside the area was blocked just in time by the Milan defense. It took a goal that did not really befit the occasion to break the deadlock on the stroke of halftime. Andrea Pirlo’s free kick on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area was deflected off his striker Inzaghi and past the wrongfooted Reina. Milan’s victory was sweet revenge for their defeat at the hands of Liverpool in a penalty shootout in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul.