Repeat finalists hope to skip previous encounter’s spills

The possibility of another penalty shootout is not being entertained by AC Milan. Since beating Juventus on penalties to win its last Champions League title in 2003, Milan has lost three straight shootouts. Liverpool, tomorrow night’s other Champions League finalist, wants the same outcome as in 2005. It just hopes to do it the easy way this time. Rafa Benitez’s team edged AC Milan in a penalty shootout in Istanbul two years ago after falling behind 3-0 at halftime. Now the two teams meet again in Athens for the same prize. Liverpool will have had a 10-day break by kickoff time, while Milan is still not finished with Serie A action. Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti rested most of his regular starters for last Saturday’s game against Udinese and the team lost 3-2. «We are not thinking about penalties but if it happens, we will have to strike the ball better than we did in Istanbul,» Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said. Ancelotti has another bad shootout memory. He played in the 1984 final in which AS Roma lost to Liverpool on penalties. While Kaka has converted all three penalties Milan has been awarded in this season’s Champions League, the squad has missed three of five in Serie A. Benitez hopes that none of the current lineup who played in that final will cast their minds back to the first half. After Paolo Maldini’s first-minute goal, Hernan Crespo scored two more before halftime. Steve Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, will be out to make sure his team doesn’t concede first this time. «I think the first goal is very important,» he said. «I don’t think you’ll see a similar game to 2005. I think it will be a lot closer because the defenses will be a lot tighter this time. One small detail can decide this game – a set piece or a mistake by an individual.» A master tactician, Benitez has several selection decisions to make. Harry Kewell is back in contention for a starting place. The Australian has missed most of the season with lingering groin and foot injuries. Meanwhile, AC Milan’s club president and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is offering his team lineup suggestions again. Before the 2003 and 2005 finals, Berlusconi voiced his opposition to Ancelotti’s preferred 4-3-2-1 «Christmas tree» formation, suggesting that two strikers play instead of one. Back then, Berlusconi had the added weight of being the country’s premier. The fact that he’s now a mere opposition leader hasn’t silenced him. While the «Christmas tree» formation is still in place, the debate now is which striker to put on top – Filippo Inzaghi or Gilardino. (AP)