“Boca here we come”. Kaká’s indirect message to the Argentine rivals of Boca Juniors should be quite clear, after a night of top-class performance from the Brazilian AC milan star. The recent Ballon d’Or winner litterally lead the Rossoneri by the hand, and looked deep into his bag of tricks for his minute 68 magic, when he schooled his marker and delivered an unmissable chance for Seedorf’s point-blank finisher. Against an Urawa Red Diamonds team which, as dubbed by the Gazzetta, exhibited much less “Shaolin Soccer” and much more catenaccio, the asphyxiating Rossoneri dominance (over 60% ball posssession in the entire match) eventually was rewarded, and cleared the way to the FIFA Club World Cup final.
Tactically, Carlo Ancelotti’s objective for this semi-final match was to keep some his “ripe” wild cards on ice, namely Filippo Inzaghi and Paolo Maldini, already thinking about the final in Tokyo against Boca Juniors. The two afore-mentioned players aside, the AC milan line-up tonight was identical to that we saw on the night of the Champions League final victory against Liverpool in May. In this case, Kakha Kaladze and Alberto Gilardino were replacing Maldini and Inzaghi. On the other end, Holger Osieck (who was the right arm of Franz Beckenbauer in the 1990 World Cup, and also lead Canada to the 2000 Gold Cup victory) decided to open with a 3-4-1-2 formation, putting his confidence in Brazilians Tulio, Nenê, and Washington. The star of the team, Robson Ponte, was out injured unfortunately.
The tactics set up by the German coach left little doubt on the intentions of the Japanese team, whose main task at hand was not to allow the Rossoneri to develop their playing style. Easier said that done, especially when you’re dealing with world class players who have just recently won a Golden Ball. Kaká was being virtually unmarkable, his constant bursts of pace giving a headache to the Urawa defenders, but providing much delight to amateurs of the beautiful game in the Yokohama stadium.
The first to come close to scoring were, unsurprisingly, the European champions. Massimo Ambrosini almost skimmed the crossbar with a close-range header, while Marek Jankulovski had an attempt from a good position, but his shot lacked power and didn’t give any problems to keeper Tsuzuki. However, despite the domination, the Rossoneri couldn’t find the way of the net in the first half, which ended on a 0-0 scoreline. Andrea Pirlo wasn’t having his best game, and Massimo Oddo was being rather timid with his forward runs, despite the abundance of real estate available on his wing.
In the 2nd half, the script of tonight’s match changed little. Same actors, but more importantly same location: the Urawa penalty box. With the tight defensive block of the Japanese team, the Rossoneri had to struggle a bit in order to find some space. Clarence Seedorf had two golden chances in the 51st and 56th, but squandered them almost like a Serie B rookie (on the first, he shot right at the goalie, and on the second, he failed to hit the target after elegantly chesting Pirlo’s aerial pass). Gilardino tried to give his contribution, but his aim wasn’t much better. On a great Ambrosini cross from the left wing, the Milan striker went for a volleyed lunge finish, but the ball hit his knee and ended wide.
It decidedly seemed as if the ball really didn’t want to cross the Urawa goal line today, so Ancelotti inserted his wild card Inzaghi to spruce things up. The move didn’t do much, but what did was the brilliant move of Kaká which I mentioned earlier in the introduction: through ball by Ambrosini on the left, Kaká with a dribble towards the goal line, back pass to Clarence Seedorf at the 12-yard spot and instep finish. 1-0 Milan.
Urawa were now forced to come out of their trenches, and try what they could to obtain the equalizer. However, aside from a few corner-kick deliveries the Japanese team gave Dida little to worry. In fact, Milan even came close to the second goal through Pirlo (narrowly wide free-kick) and Seedorf (powerful shot on the side-netting, once again exploiting a Kaká set-up). The game thus came to a close with a 1-0 Milan scoreline, but not before Maldini came on to play the last 10 minutes of regular time. No doubt the AC Milan captain will get more action on Sunday, for the final against Boca Juniors.
|GOALSCORERS: 68’ Seedorf (M)|
|URAWA (3-4-1-2): Tsuzuki – Tsuboi, Tulio (75’ Yamada), Nene – Hosogai, Suzuki, Abe, Soma (81’ Hirakawa) – Hasebe – Nagai, Washington. (bench: Yamagishi, Ono, Tsutsumi, Koike, Ukidate, Nishizawa, Okano). Coach: Osieck|
|MILAN (4-3-2-1): Dida – Oddo, Nesta, Kaladze, Jankulovski (80’ Maldini) – Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini – Seedorf (91′ Brocchi), Kaká – Gilardino (62’ Inzaghi). (bench: Kalac, Cafu, Simic, Emerson, Favalli, Gourcuff, Bonera, Serginho). Coach: Ancelotti|
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