SIMEONE RESPECTS MILAN
ROUND OF 16, FIRST LEG
AC MILAN v ATLETICO MADRID
(Tomorrow, 3.40am, SingTel mio TV Ch 112)
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has refused to underestimate AC Milan when the sides meet in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Atletico, currently battling Barcelona and Real Madrid for command of La Liga, are firm favourites to win at the San Siro that would boost their chances of a first quarter-final appearance in the modern era of the competition.
Simeone knows the Rossoneri well having played for two seasons at city rivals Inter before leaving for Atletico where he won the league and Cup double with the Riojiblancos in 1996.
The former Argentina international said Atletico will be going out to replicate the form that, despite a series of unexpected defeats, has kept their Spanish title bid on track.
But the 43-year-old, who steered Atletico to their second Europa League title in May 2012, said he expects an "open" game in which Milan will be looking to "exploit every opportunity".
"I won't start making predictions, but I think it's going to be an open game and will also be important for us in terms of gauging how we should approach the second leg," said Simeone at a press conference this morning.
"I don't think we're favourites. We have to go out and play our own game, but we also need to have focus because Italian teams in these kinds of situations can move up a level."
In theory, Atletico could not be meeting Milan at a better time.
After a disastrous start to the season under Massimiliano Allegri, the Rossoneri reins were handed to Clarence Seedorf early last month.
But, after three wins in five league games and a quarter-final exit from the Italian Cup at the hands of Udinese, the jury remains out on the 37-year-old Dutchman.
Seedorf is the only player to have won Europe's most prestigious club trophy with three different clubs - Ajax, Real Madrid and twice with Milan - and spent 10 golden years with Milan before his departure in 2012.
But, as a coach, he is untested at this level when the pressure is on.
If Milan don't win this season's competition - a scenario which looks likely - their chances of Champions League football next season already look slim.
"Atletico are well organised, strong and have great forwards," Seedorf said on Monday.
But whereas Milan marksman Mario Balotelli has scored only 10 times in the league this season, Atletico's Diego Costa, on 21 goals, is only one behind championship leader Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid.
Apart from a Balotelli wonder goal last Friday, Seedorf's men put in an otherwise tepid performance against struggling Bologna.
Simeone watched that game and has already praised Balotelli's talent.
But, despite the apparent gulf in current form between the Champions League opponents, he said that Milan could emerge the better side.
"Milan are better, they're better," he insisted. "They have very good players who are strong in attack and know how to play on the counter.
"They will be looking to exploit every opportunity. I really think Milan will be up for it tomorrow." - AFP.