UEFA Champions League Final
AC Milan (ITA)
There isn't a final more finely poised than this one. After months and months of cup competition, elimination, heart breaks and jubilation, it comes down to this very night in Athens, where rivalries renew and the thirst for glory and hunger for success comes face to face.
The two teams are none other than the protagonists of the 'Greatest European Final, Ever TM'. It's style against substance, beauty against pragmatism. The difference between the sides are pretty obvious before the match even started.
Milan draped in their fine designer's suit and tie, representing their the classy and stylish side hailing from Milan, the capital of fashion. On the pitch, they are no difference from it. Free flowing, fluid football.
Liverpool, clad in their Adidas tracksuits, speaks volume about their down to earth style. Hailing from the Merseyside where blue collared workers rule, success is all about nit and grit. It comes with a price of being labeled ugly yet it was the only way to survive.
The clash of style on and off the pitch certainly means this final will be a spectacle for both fans and neutrals alike. The aging yet experienced Milan side will take on the up and rising Liverpool with 11 European Cups in between the two. It does represents the level of pedigree in Europe from the two giants.
Questions will be asked but all answers will be provided on the pitch tonight. Whether Kaka will run riot or will Gerrard be stifled by Gattuso, it doesn't matter now. When the man in black blows the whistle, we'll be kept at the edge of our seats and answers shall be revealed.
The nightmares of the final 2 years ago surely still haunts the Milan team day and night. Flashes of the 'cursed 6 minutes' and the penalty miss by Shevchenko has left a deep cut in the Milan giant.
Is it time to exorcised the ghost of Istanbul?
Milan will certainly want to do it but at the same time, they have to keep their heads cool. They can't afford to go out there with revenge solely on their minds. They've been talking to the press about how it won't be a matter of vengeance yet you could smell it in the air, they would want to kill off Liverpool as quickly as possible.
With the 5th European Cup back home in such style, Liverpool will have the psychological edge over Milan as the face off. With the ability to escape the hands of defeat on so many occasions, they'll certainly feel confident going into this game without the ghost of past finals haunting them.
It'll be a final where the team who are more composed and controlled will take home the crown. If Milan decides to let the spirit of vengeance in, it'll be a difficult task for them.
Yet football isn't that easy. With all the psychological edge, it isn't enough to win you the game.
The style of Milan might be too hot to handle for Liverpool. The way they steamrolled past their English rivals, ManYoo, was a sight to behold and with so many experienced professionals and match winners in the squad, Milan certainly have the advantage over Liverpool in terms of player quality.
We've discussed about the threat coming from Kaka, who is top of the scoring charts as well as the likes of Clarence Seedorf, who is searching for his 4th European winner title and also Pippo Inzaghi. With Nesta and Maldini holding the rear, they certainly are a good mix of both experience and class.
But despite being inferior to Milan on paper, Liverpool does know how to handle the big guns through tactical ingenuity from boss, Rafa Benitez, and of course the work ethics of the team. When Milan preaches individual match winners, Liverpool focus on togetherness as a team and playing as a compact unit.
They've seen off the likes of Barcelona in the knockout round and then the newfound rivals, Chelsea from London. Both are gargantuans of European football yet Liverpool survived and made it all the way to Athens.
Revenge was also the key in the semi final where Chelsea tried to bury the ghost of 2005 where Liverpool beat them at the same stage yet all the talk was void and Liverpool showed character to overcome.
Milan's road to Athens wasn't easy as well, with Bayern Munich and ManYoo in the way. They showed that they have the ability to bounce back as well as they trailed both the first leg before finishing it off in the second.
I shall not go into the personal battles about how Mascherano will eat Kaka alive or Gattuso will break Gerrard's heart/leg as all we can do now is speculate. We have absolutely no idea what Rafa or Carlo have in mind for their team selections. Will Kewell be given the chance to start? Will Gilardino or Inzaghi lead the Milan strikeforce? Nobody knows, just yet.
As for predictions, it is a heart against head prediction here. As a die-hard Reds fan, I would LOVE Gerrard to once again, lift the 6th European trophy in memories of the 30th anniversary of our first ever European triumph.
But then again, my head is having a different opinion. I look back at World Cup 2006 and we saw how Italy overcame all the odds to win the prestigious world title. Back home, there were troubles with match fixing scandals and bribing but as they are the descendants of the Roman Empire, they came back strongly.
Just like what Milan might do this time. They weren't supposed to be in the competition this season. Yet they managed to go all the way to the finals, only to meet their old foe, their nemesis. With so much at stake, I fear a backlash from the Milanistas.
I'm sorry guys, I sincerely hope I'm proven wrong. But I just don't have a good feeling about this.
Prediction: Milan 1-0 Liverpool. It'll be a close game with the midfield congested. But it all just takes a moment of brilliance from a player to break the deadlock and I see Milan doing it.
Whatever it is, come on Reds. PROVE ME WRONG.