Archive for January 6th, 2008

Alexandre Pato’s AC Milan Debut Imminent: 1 Week, Start the Countdown

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Alexandre Pato, age 18, in full force at AC Milan and the Brazilian national team

Freshly back from New Year’s celebrations in Brazil, 2008 has started for Alexandre Pato and it has started in official Rossoneri colors. All the bureaucratic matters concerning the transfer of the Brazilian youngster from Internacional de Porto Alegre have been finalized, the new contract binding him with AC Milan has been presented to Lega Calcio, everything is set and ready. Basically all that’s left is for Pato to take his first steps into San Siro, wearing the Red & Black jersey.

The 5-month wait, from the time Milan officially acquired exclusive rights for Pato’s contract to the time he turned 18 and became eligible (non-EU minors may not be registered in Italy), is over. Or nearly over, but it’s a matter of days now: the official debut date has been set to Sunday January 13, 20:30 CET, when AC Milan will be hosting Napoli at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza “San Siro”. There undoubtedly will be a large contingent of Rossoneri fans eagerly awaiting Pato’s first performance, in the hopes that one of Brazil’s most promising youngsters can deliver them from their slumber of the Serie A. For those who aren’t keeping track, the Rossoneri still haven’t won at home in the Italian league this season.

Another group eagerly awaiting to see “The Duck” deliver, will be AC Milan’s board of directors (the same ones that paid €22m for the transfer fee back in August to bring Pato over from Brazil, not exactly a “peanut investment” as dubbed by Gazzetta dello Sport) and of course, Carlo Ancelotti, who in the past months wasn’t shy on praise for the youngster. “He’s got superstar qualities” said the Milan coach, among other things like allegedly telling Milan boss Silvio Berlusconi that Pato would score 30 goals in 6 months. Mmmmh…

In any case, hypothesizing the anti-Napoli formation the Rossoneri of next week isn’t an easy feat, but it is an almost-certainty Pato will get the thumbs up for a starting role says Gazzetta. It’s already been established he is fully compatible with Antonio Gilardino (practice tests have shown there’s already good teamwork between the two), but whether Carlo Ancelotti is ready to abandon his favorite 4-3-2-1 “Xmas tree” formation is anyone’s guess. If that were to happen, the Rossoneri would probably revert to a 2-striker formation (Pato and Gila) with Kaká right behind them in a playmaking role.

Meanwhile, the Milan staff will be working hard over the next month, in order to bring Pato to tiptop shape for the return of Serie A, after the Winter break. According to Milan sources, Pato “is fast, very resistant physically, and has a great margin of improvement“. Good news for the Rossoneri, who from mid-February to March will have quite a hectic schedule to contend with: recuperating all the missed matches due to their FIFA Club World Cup fixtures, and the double face-off with Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. We can only wish “Il Diavolo” good luck, or in this case “Boa sorte”.

Dubai Cup Semi-finals – Inter and Ajax Neutralize to a 2-2 Draw, Penalty Shootout Favors the Nerazzurri

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Mohammed bin Rashid International Football Championship - 2008 Dubai Cup

The first 90 minutes of Inter’s new year have ended in a draw. Yes, it was only a friendly tournament, and yes almost all the big stars were absent, so it really doesn’t mean much. However, it’s reassuring to see that even at some point, the ruthless goal-machine Roberto Mancini has created has to stop. Standing in the Nerazzurri’s way this time were Ajax Amsterdam, with seasoned veterans like Edgar Davids, established stars like Klaas Jan Huntelaar, and emerging prodigies like Hedwiges Maduro.

And even if they did only manage a draw against the Godenzonen (courtesy of a Julio Cruz double and goals by Kenneth Perez and Johnny Heitinga), Inter did grab the ticket to the final by winning the penalty shootout 3-2. They will be facing Brazil’s Internacional de Porto Alegre, victors of Vfb Stuttgart 1-0 in the other semi-final.

Dubai Cup Semi-finals - Inter 2-2 Ajax (5-4 p.s.o.)

Tactically, in true friendly match-style Inter coach Roberto Mancini chose to give his younger and reserve players a shot in this match, by keeping out regular starters like Córdoba, Zanetti, Materazzi, and Jiménez (Zlatan I think, was not even on the gamesheet). The Nerazzurri backline was composed of Nelson Rivas, Nicolás Burdisso, Cristian Chivu, and Maxwell. In midfield, we found the irreplaceable Esteban Cambiasso coupled with Santiago Solari and Portuguese youth prodigy Pelé, supporting the attack of David Suazo and Julio Cruz. In addition, the Inter coach gave two of 1988-born players a chance: Enrico Alfonso in net and Luca Siligardi as the playmaker behind the two strikers.

The two Inter youngsters showed off some good things in the initial minutes, Sigliardi with a show slightly off the mark in minute 7, and Alfonso with a few close-range saves. Nevertheless, it was Ajax who had the best of the chances at first, especially through their star striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar who had 3 back-to-back opportunities but produced average shots. Taking advantage of the Dutch team’s missed chances, Inter were then first to get on the scoreboard: exploiting a cross from David Suazo, Julio Cruz controlled the ball with his chest and beat Stekelenburg with a close-range left-footed tackle into the net. 1-0 Inter in minute 16.

The Nerazzurri lead was effectively short-lived however: 2 minutes later, Danish striker Kenneth Perez received a long throw-in, got rid of Pelé and Burdisso marking him, and executed a precise right-footed finish from the edge of the box. Goal Ajax, and 1-1 at the break.

At the restart, Ajax coach Adrie Koster (subbing in for Henk ten Cate, who went to Chelsea, while the Ajax board find a replacement) decided to change 4 players and give his substitutes a chance to shine. Mancini on the other hand, decided to wait until minute 68 to replace Siligardi with emerging wonderkid Mario Balotelli. Not before allowing a few events to unfold.

Inter’s present being tailed by Inter’s past: David Suazo vs. Edgar DavidsFirst, the Primavera playmaker (before his substitution) had the chance to put Inter back in the lead, but one-on-one with the Ajax keeper he ventured a dribbling which was deftly neutralized by Stekelenburg. Then a minute later, Suazo had an almost open-net chance when, through on goal, he sidestepped the keeper but found his finishing shot angled wide of the mark. Finally, Cruz received a really long ball from his defensive line and was clear on net, with virtually no pressure from the tailing defenders. Unfortunately, he could not find the winning trajectory to beat the Ajax keeper, who parried away. Tough luck for Inter. Even tougher luck in minute 66, when their keeper Alfonso missed a defensive pass, allowed Suarez to intercept, and then tripped him inside the box conceding a penalty. Duly transformed by Johnny Heitinga, 2-1 Ajax.

The Primavera keeper had the chance to redeem himself a few minutes later, by saving a difficult shot by Dennis Rommedahl. Then fortunately for Inter, from a Cristian Chivu corner-kick Julio “El Jardinero” Cruz re-established a tied score, with a precise header inside the post. 2-2.

This was the final scoreline after 90 minutes, which saw a couple more Inter (Balotelli crossbar) and Ajax (Leonardo wide) scoring opportunities. In the penalty shootout, the mistakes of Van der Heijden, Kennedy and Heitenga proved to be decisive, despite the save of Stekelenburg on Cristian Chivu’s spot-kick.

In the final, the Nerazzurri will be facing Internacional de Porto Alegre, who won their semi-final 1-0 vs. Vfb Stuttgart. The FINAL MATCH match is scheduled for Monday January 7th at 21:00 local time (18:00 CET and 12:00 ET).

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F.C. Internazionale Milano
INTER-AJAX 2-2
(5-4 p.s.o.)
[Match Highlights]
”AFC
GOALSCORERS: 16′, 68’ Cruz (I), 18′ Perez (A), 63′ Heitinga (pen.)
PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Van der Hijden (A) post, Cruz (I) goal, Suarez (A) goal, Balotelli (I) goal, De Jong (A) goal, Chivu (I) saved, Kennedy (A) wide, Burdisso (I) goal, Heitinga (A) post.
INTER (4-4-2): Alfonso – Rivas, Burdisso, Chivu, Maxwell – Pelé, Cambiasso, Solari, Siligardi (66’ Balotelli) – Cruz, Suazo (75’ Pedrelli) (bench: Orlandoni, Córdoba, J.Zanetti, Materazzi, Fatic, Jiménez, Cesar, Bolzoni, Crespo). Coach: Mancini.
AJAX (4-3-3): Stekelenburg – Ogararu, Heitinga, Maduro, Vertongehen (46’ Schilder, 54’ Van der Heijden) – Donald (46’ Rommedahl), Perez (46’ De Jong), Davids (33′ Emanuelson) – Kennedy, Huntelaar (46’ Leonardo), Suarez (bench: Gentenaar, Urzaiz, Luque, Colin) Coach: Koster.