Euro clash moves towards semi-finals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 12:00am

FOOTBALL SUPERSTARS clash tonight as AC Milan and Ajax Amsterdam, and Manchester United and Real Madrid meet in do-or-die battles for Champions League semi-final places.

Two of the semi-finalists were decided in matches played last night, and the final four will be complete when two of these star-studded sides join them. Outside of Real Madrid, Ajax and AC Milan are two of the most successful clubs in the history of the European Cup.

Milan have five titles and Ajax four, the last of which came in 1995 when they beat Milan.

The Italian giants Milan were unable to score in the 0-0 first leg draw with Ajax in Holland.

But Ajax, who have tied six of their last seven Champions League matches, may still have an advantage.

If it finishes a scoring draw tonight, Ajax go through on the away goals rule.

Another 0-0 stalemate, and the match will go to penalties.

But Carlo Ancelotti's AC Milan can count on the wizardry of big names Rivaldo, Paolo Maldini, Filipo Inzhagi, Andrei Shevchenko and Manuel Rui Costa in their ranks.

Ajax, coached by former Dutch national team captain Ronald Koeman, rely more on the adventurous spirit of youth.

Their key men are Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, home-grown Andy Van Der Meyde, South African Steven Pienaar, American John O'Brien and Romanian Cristian Chivu.

AC Milan have failed to score in their last two Champions League matches, scored only seven goals in their last nine matches, and no more than one goal in any of those nine games.

There appears to be a good chance of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw tonight. The winner will play Inter Milan or Valencia in the semi-finals.

Manchester United seek an early goal in their second leg match against the defending champions Real.

Losing 3-1 from the first leg, Alex Ferguson's team know that an early strike could fire up the home fans at Old Trafford.

Thanks to Ruud Van Nistelrooy's late consolation goal in Madrid two weeks ago, a 2-0 win for United would send them into the semis on the away goals rule.

But beating Real Madrid side glittering with international talent will be no easy task. And when agile young Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas is on form, he can be unbeatable.

United face the might of the Spaniards without in-form Paul Scholes and key defender Gary Neville, both out suspended.

Zidane flourished against the anemic Roy Keane at the Bernabau in Madrid, but the committed United captain will surely not concede defeat so easily tonight.

England captain David Beckham should be back after a rest, live wire Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will likely deputise for Scholes, and skillful defender John O'Shea should cover for Neville.

One man to be counted on is striker Van Nistelrooy, in lethal form at present.

The winner plays Juventus or Barcelona in the semi-final.

Send in your score predictions for tonight's European Champions League matches and win ESPN baseball caps.

AC Milan versus Ajax is live on STAR at 2.30am.

Manchester United versus Real Madrid is on ESPN at 2.30am.

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