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Editorial: Milan A Pale Imitation

Pirlo was one of the main culprits

04/08/2004. Deportivo 4 Milan 0. A result that sent shock waves through not just European football, but world football.

This game of ours has a funny habit of making fools of us all. The three powerhouses of the last eight –Real Madrid, Milan and Arsenal- were all unceremoniously dumped out of the Champions League this week, and left to ponder exactly what hit them.

But Milan's demise was far less predictable. It's as if Carlo Ancelotti sent 11 different players out on the pitch from those who have so dazzled in Serie A this season. Incredible.

Andrea Pirlo was a shadow of his normal self in midfield, the defence was at sixes and sevens, while in attack, the Rossoneri looked all out of ideas, against the superb Jorge Andrade and his street-wise friends.

So have Milan buckled under the pressure. League draws against mediocre Chievo and Modena would suggest so. Overconfidence? Perhaps. Could it be that the Rossomeri players were believing a little much of their own hype?

They were sweeping teams aside earlier in the season, with their stylish, yet tactically astute brand of football. Kaka was the best thing since sliced bread, Andrea Pirlo was being dubbed the world's best passer, while Clarence Seedorf was looking like the complete player, with no obvious weaknesses. The trio still ooze class, but in general looked lost against those Riazor warriors.

Perhaps the decisive moment of the game arrived in the 35th minute when Dida inexplicably failed to deal with a left wing cross and the majestic Juan Carlos Valeron mobbed up the loose change for 2-0. The Brazilian is now regarded as one of the world's best keepers, but that lapse was all too reminiscent of his bad old days.

And what of his poor fellow countryman Cafu? How Depor pummelled him down their left. The Brazilian has played in some of the biggest matches imaginable, but has rarely had a more uncomfortable night.

But the whole defence was at fault. And a full-strength one at that. The thought of a back line consisting of the experienced Guiseppe Pancaro, the imperious Paolo Maldini and the renowned Alessandro Nesta conceding four goals seemed laughable. But now they will have to listen to the no doubt over-the-top press criticism that will inevitably follow.

But Deportivo were out of this world. Mauro Silva, who many believed was on the way out, rolled back the years with a warrior like display in midfield. Andrade has been sensational all season and caught the eye again last night, while Valeron delivered a virtuoso performance as playmaker. The former Mallorca man has been accused of lacking fight in the past, but the Depor fans won't care as long as he keeps turning in performances like this. Pace is such a factor in the modern game, but Valeron continues to show that it is not the be all and end all.

What a strange semi-final line-up. Chelsea, Deportivo, Porto and Monaco all have their fair share of European experience, but a last four without the likes of Milan, Real Madrd, Juventus and Manchester United is testament to the strength-in-depth of the European game, or a reflection of their respective deficiencies.
Stewart Coggin
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