The European soccer season reaches its climax today when Italy's two most famous and successful teams, AC Milan and Juventus, square off at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, in the final of the European Champions Cup.
The sold-out match offers many interesting angles, not least of which is the prospect of AC Milan and Dutch national team midfielder Clarence Seedorf having the opportunity to become the first player to win the European Cup with three clubs.
Seedorf, 27, won the trophy with Ajax Amsterdam in 1995 and with Real Madrid in 1998. He will be going up against a teammate on the '95 Ajax team, Juventus and Dutch national team midfielder Edgar Davids.
Then there is AC Milan defender and captain Paolo Maldini. Long the mainstay of Italy's national team although now retired from international competition, Maldini, 34, is hoping to emulate his father, Cesare, who captained AC Milan to its 1963 European Cup final victory over Benfica.
The younger Maldini will be seeking his fourth European Cup, having already won with AC Milan in 1989, 1990 and 1994.
The rival coaches, Marcello Lippi, 55, of Juventus and Carlo Ancelotti, 43, of AC Milan are superb tacticians, and how they move the pieces around the board could provide a lesson for all coaches.
Juventus, founded in 1897 and owned by automobile mogul Umberto Agnelli of Fiat fame, has been European champion twice, most recently in 1996, and this season won the Italian league title for the record 27th time.
AC Milan, founded in 1899 and owned by media mogul and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has been European champion five times in the competition's 48-year history, most recently in 1994, and has been Italian champion 16 times.
The teams split their two games in the Serie A season, each winning, 2-1, at home.
Both finalists are packed with international players of the highest quality from eight countries. The outcome could be decided, however, by a player who is not on the field.
In its semifinal victory over Real Madrid, last season's champion, Juventus lost influential Czech playmaker Pavel Nedved when he picked up his third yellow card of the tournament seven minutes from the end.
That ruled him out of the final, and the game could be determined by how well his replacement -- probably Mauro Camoranesi but possibly Marco Di Vaio -- performs. Here are the likely starting lineups, with both teams using a 4-4-2 formation:
Juventus: Gianluigi Buffon; Lilian Thuram, Ciro Ferrara, Pablo Montero, Alessandro Birindelli; Camoranesi, Davids, Alessio Tachinardi, Gianluca Zambrotta; Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet.
AC Milan: Dida; Alessandro Costacurta, Alessandro Nesta, Maldini, Kakha Kaladze; Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Seedorf, Rui Costa; Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi.
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