There was a long debate amongst officials and players on whether it was appropriate to play this match, given the tragic circumstances surrounding the recent death of Sevillan player Antonio Puerta. In the end, both teams decided that they should play the UEFA Super Cup, to honor the memory of their colleague and comrade, a 22 year old kid that left us to play among the stars too soon, way too soon.
There were many tribute banners to Puerta in the stands of the Stade Louis II, and the whole stadium fell completely still in the very touching minute of silence held before the beginning of the game. All players from both teams wore shirts with the Puerta name below their number.
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti decided to field the same formation that was crowned European Champions in Athens back in May, with the exception of Kakha Kaladze substituting injured captain Paolo Maldini. His Sevilla counterpart Juande Ramos, reponded to the traditional Milan “Xmas tree” formation with a stable 4-4-2 and a few surprises. Disgruntled right-back Daniel Alves (still angry about being denied the transfer to Chelsea, but setting his transfer problems aside in light of the circumstances) was back in the starting line-up, and Poulsen occupied a surprise spot at the heart of the Sevillan defense, due to the absence of captain Javi Navarro.
The match started on a very attacking-geared tone, with both teams taking turns trying to bring the ball in their opponents’ defensive zone. The first ones to be dangerous were the Spaniards, through their Brazilian central midfielder Renato, sending a long-range shot narrowly wide in the 3rd. On the following play, it was Milan’s turn to knock at Sevilla keeper Palop‘s doorstep, thanks to a good Inzaghi percussion on the left wing, exploited by Kakà to send the ball smashing onto the post! Those that feared this match was going to be a timid display of defensive football were proven immediately wrong in the initial minutes. There was a real game being played at Louis II tonight, with both teams pushing to score.
Eventually, the the Spaniards would be the first to break the tie. A Duda corner kick from the right was crossed all the way to the 2nd post for a well-positioned Renato, who had little trouble in adjusting the header and sending the ball past Dida‘s arms (benefitting from a slight close-range deflection by Massimo Oddo). 1-0 for Sevilla, with the entire team celebrating the goal by pointing towards the skies at their lost friend.
Following their goal, the Andalusians kept a tight structure in their team tactics, preventing the Rossoneri to seep through for a good part of the first period. In fact, Ancelotti’s men were put under pressure more than once, and almost conceded a 2nd goal as a long-range cross was akwardly deflected back to Kanouté by Oddo, and the Mali striker set up Renato on the 12-yard spot with an open goal! The Brazilian could not adjust his shot fast enough though, allowing Alessandro Nesta to make a last-ditch clearance on the line and keep the Milan boat afloat.
The Rossoneri did manage to score seconds before the half came to an end (after two missed chances by Seedorf and Ambrosini), but the Pippo Inzaghi redirect into goal was (rightfully) disallowed for a millimetric offside. Ref blew the whistle for half-time with a score of 1-0 for the UEFA Cup champions.
Back on the field for the 2nd period, Milan decided it was time to cast their defensive inhibitions aside for the time being, and play with a decisively more offensive verve. That strategy paid dividends very soon, through the action of their iconic lone striker. In the 55′, Gattuso found some space on the right wing, resisted the charge of his marker, and floated a perfect cross for a completely free Filippo Inzaghi in the 6-yard box. With only a 1% chance that Pippo would miss from that distance, the Milan striker deposited the header into the net for his 59th goal in Europe, bringing the score level to 1-1 and sending the Rossoneri fans into rapture.
The Sevillans immediately replied after the restart, with Renato sending Kanouté deep to the goal line in a dangerous position, but the ensuing cross failed to find Duda (completely unmarked in front of Dida!) in extension at the 10 yard line. That would be the last real danger created by the Rojiblancos in the 2nd, as a few minutes later Ancelotti’s men would provide the victory goal, followed by the nail in the coffin.
From a masterfully executed Pirlo crossfield pass (from inside his own half), the ball was sent to the left into the opposing box where Marek Jankulovski had made the run. The Czech international didn’t wait for the ball to bounce, instead he took a one-time volley with his left foot, low into the far right corner where Andrés Palop couldn’t reach. Technical magic, both in the set-up and the finish.
Coach Ramos decided to play all of his offensive cards at this point, substituting Escudé and Martí with strikers Kerzhakov and Luis Fabiano (and Duda for our own Italian Enzo Maresca) but with little effect on the gameplay. Milan had the match well in hand, and 3 minutes before final whistle they put a final note on a dominated 2nd period. Kakà drifted forward through the Sevillan defense, creating havoc and forcing Dragutinovic to upend him inside the box. A clear penalty, transformed in two times by the Brazilian (Palop had made the initial save on the first shot). The goal sealed Sevilla’s fate and the final 3-1 score.
The parting image of the Louis II, other than the one of captain Massimo Ambrosini hosting the trophy, was perhaps the substitution of Clarence Seedorf, who indicated Puerta’s name on the back of his shirt as he was being subbed off.
Another European trophy for Milan, but a sad week for soccer.
|GOALSCORERS: 14’ Renato (S), 55’ Inzaghi (M), 62’ Jankulovski (M), 87’ Kakà (M)|
|MILAN (4-3-2-1): Dida – Oddo, Kaladze, Nesta, Jankulovski – Gattuso (73’ Emerson), Pirlo, Ambrosini – Kakà, Seedorf (89’ Brocchi) – Inzaghi (89’ Gilardino). (bench: Kalac, Cafu, Favalli, Bonera). Coach: Ancelotti.|
|SEVILLA (4-4-2): Palop – D.Alves, Escudé (83’ Luis Fabiano), Poulsen, Dragutinovic – J.Navas, Martí (65’ Kerzhakov), Duda (75’ Maresca), Renato – Keita, Kanouté. (bench: De Sanctis, Mosquera, Capel, De Mul). Coach: Ramos.|
Photos courtesy of Kataweb Sport