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Liverpool-AC Milan, the protagonists
by Paul Kennedy, May 23rd, 2007 7AM

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TAGS:  england, italy, uefa champions league

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Liverpool and AC Milan meet Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League final in Athens. The game is a repeat of the 2005 final Liverpool won on penalty kicks after the Reds trailed, 3-0, at the half. Here's a look at some of the key figures in this year's final.

Liverpool:

JOSE REINA. The 24-year-old Spanish goalie won the semifinal series against Chelsea with his saves in the shootout. Says Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, "We had the confidence in the penalty shootout because we have the best goalkeeper in the world." Reina will follow in the footsteps of his father, Miguel, who played in goal for Atletico Madrid in the 1974 European Cup final.

STEVEN GERRARD. The 26-year-old midfielder is the Liverpool captain and inspirational leader. A key tactical move will be Benitez's decision on where to place Gerrard on the field. Gerrard often plays on the right side, but he prefers to work in the middle as he did in the second leg of the semifinals against Chelsea when Jermaine Pennant took his place on the right side and Javier Mascherano teamed with him in the middle in place of Spaniard Xabi Alonso.

JAVIER MASCHERANO. It's been a rollercoaster season for the young Argentine. After sitting on the bench at West Ham, he earned a new lease on life when Liverpool picked him up on loan. Indeed, Mascherano's signing could be the top move of Europe's January transfer window. Since arriving at Anfield, Mascherano showed all the class at holding midfielder that made him a starter for Argentina at the age of 21 at the 2006 World Cup.

PETER CROUCH. At 6-foot-7, Crouch is the tallest player ever to play for Liverpool or England. He has been called the "gangling goon" but he is the Reds' top scorer in the Champions League with seven goals, including a goal on a spectacular overhead kick against Galatasaray early in the competition.

AC Milan:

PAOLO MALDINI. Knee problems kept the 38-year-old Maldini out of the second leg of the semifinals against Manchester United, but he is hopeful to play in the final. If he plays, he'll tie Real Madrid's Paco Gento for the European Cup record of eight appearances in the final. Maldini is shooting for his fifth title. Gento holds the record with six European Cup titles, followed by teammates Alfredo Di Stefano and Jose Maria Zarraga, who won five each.

GENNARO GATTUSO. The 28-year-old midfielder is the epitome of Italian grit. He was a key figure in the Azzurri's World Cup championship in 2006 and will lead Milan in its battle for midfield control against Liverpool. The fiery Gattuso led the war of words in the pregame buildup to the match, comparing Liverpool to Italian teams of a decade ago. "All they try to do is defend together, with everybody behind the ball and just one striker," he said. "With Liverpool all they can do is play long ball, every ball is a long ball. It is very different to Manchester, who are a footballing team."

CLARENCE SEEDORF. The 31-year-old Dutchman has been outstanding in Milan's run to the final. He scored in the quarterfinals against Bayern Munich and in the semifinals against Manchester United to give him 10 goals on the season in Serie A and the Champions League -- the most in his 15-year career. Seedorf has won the Champions League with Ajax (1995), Real Madrid (1998) and Milan (2003), making him the only player to win the competition with three different clubs.

KAKA. If Milan wins in Athens, the young Brazilian will become the early favorite, ahead of Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo, to take international player of the year honors for 2007. He leads all scorers with 10 goals in this season's Champions League. Still only 22, the highly religious Kaka was brilliant in the first half of the first leg against Manchester United and turned the series around with his third goal of the semifinals early in the second leg.



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