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Soccer: Milan out to excel themselves against Atletico

Seedorf set for European debut as coach against Spaniards

18 February, 16:35
Soccer: Milan out to excel themselves against Atletico (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 18 - Coach Clarence Seedorf said Tuesday that AC Milan will have to excel themselves to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals ahead of the first leg of their last-16 tie against Atletico Madrid Wednesday.

Milan have been crowned European champions seven times, including two Champions League titles Dutchman Seedorf helped them win as a player, while Atletico have never lifted the continent's top club trophy.

But the Italian side are the underdogs this time, given the teams' respective form on the domestic scene.

Atletico are gunning to break the stranglehold Real Madrid and Barcelona have held on the Spanish title in recent years and they currently share the top spot with those giants in the Primera Division.

Milan, on the other hand, are ninth in Serie A after making a poor start to the season that saw Massimiliano Allegri sacked last month and former midfielder Seedorf put in charge, even though he has no experience of coaching a senior club.

The Champions League is Milan's only hope of a trophy this season as they were knocked out of the Italian Cup shortly after Seedorf was appointed. "Atletico Madrid have had two incredible seasons and this year they're doing even better," Seedorf told a press conference on Tuesday. "They've got great strikers and they show great discipline in the defensive and offensive phases of play. "Atletico are the favourites judging by the results in the league. "We respect them, but in the Champions League Milan have an important history and we'll do our all to beat them and go beyond our limits". Seedorf said he had spoken to Carlo Ancelotti, his former boss at Milan who is now in charge of Real Madrid, about Atletico because "it's important to have many points of views and different opinions".

The Dutchman may also be studying the video of Real's recent 5-0 aggregate win over Atletico in a two-leg Spanish Cup tie and Atletico's 2-0 defeat to Almeria in the league 10 days ago. Seedorf said he was not worried by the fact that Milan's results have been mixed since he took over - three league wins, a draw and a 3-1 defeat to Napoli.

"Our growth is gradual," said Seedorf, who was the first footballer to win the Champions League with three different sides, after lifting it with Ajax and Real Madrid before his two triumphs in the tournament with Milan.

"This is a unique, special match. There are other factors that will influence the game. "The added value of this side is the spirit and the bond between the different components that make up the team.

"We're going through a difficult time and these are the kind of matches to use the enthusiasm that we have to make things better and strengthen the group".

Seedorf said Brazil playmaker Kaka is in doubt for Wednesday's match at the San Siro because of an ankle knock.

He is also without suspended midfielders Riccardo Montolivo and Sulley Muntari.

But Italy striker Mario Balotelli is fired up.

"I hope I can have an impact tomorrow on the pitch. It's always the same things that I want to achieve - to help the group and to win," said the 23-year-old, who showed his emotional side when he broke down in tears after being substituted during the Napoli defeat. "I didn't score much during the group stages because I didn't play much and I'm yet to score against a Spanish side. "I haven't scored for the Italian national team either against Spain. Maybe I can change that, starting with Atletico tomorrow". Balotelli said he likes Seedorf's approach and did not take offence at the boss recently saying he was not yet a world-class player. "It's not an important question whether I'm a champion or not," said the player, whose career has been dogged by incidents of ill discipline. "I need to help the team. Personal results come thanks to the team." "The coach is like a team-mate. There is a lot of dialogue and he allows for opinions to be exchanged. He's like a big brother". Milan owner Silvo Berlusconi visited the team's training complex Tuesday to help motivate the players for the big match.