Vol. 4 Num 1 Wed. May 28, 2003  

Penpics of key AC Milan and Juventus players ahead of Wednesday's Champions League final against Juventus at Old Trafford, Manchester:

AC MILAN Paolo Maldini (defender): Maldini's retirement from international football may have been premature as the 34-year-old has been a rock at the heart of Milan's defence this season.

Still quick on his feet and an excellent reader of the game, Maldini is aiming for a fourth European Cup/Champions League success.

Made his debut for Milan in January 1985 at the age of 16 and has since spent 19 seasons at the San Siro.

In his time at Milan Maldini has won six Italian league titles, three European Cups, four Italian Cups, three European Super Cups and two Intercontinental Cups.

Italy's most capped player, Maldini made 126 appearances for the Azzurri before hanging up his boots after last year's World Cup in Japan and South Korea, his fourth appearance in the finals.

Milan's 34-year-old captain has switched from the left-hand side to the centre of defence without any problems.

Alessandro Nesta (defender): The former Lazio captain had a difficult start with a string of erratic performances after joining Milan last year for 30 million euros.

But under Maldini's wise old wing, the 27-year-old has struck up a solid partnership alongside Milan's veteran skipper.

Similar in style to Maldini, Nesta has added an extra dimension to his game by carrying the ball forward a lot more from his own penalty box this season.

Strong in the air and composed on the floor, Nesta has made more than 50 appearances for Italy.

His value on the transfer market practically doubled after his impressve performances for the Azzurri at the 2000 European championships in Holland and Belgium. Italy lost in the final to France.

Manuel Rui Costa (Midfielder): Now in his second season at Milan, the 31-year-old Portuguese international has slowly recaptured the kind of form that made him one of the world's best and most sought-after midfield players.

The former Fiorentina star rarely gives away possession and has a gift for opening up defences with a killer pass timed to perfection.

Comfortable with both feet, Rui Costa has complimented the ball-winning skills of the tenacious Gennaro Gattuso in central midfield.

Has the ability to dictate the pace of game and is never afraid to shoot.

Filippo Inzaghi (striker): The 29-year-old has scored 10 goals in this season's Champions League - two fewer than leading marksman Ruud van Nistelrooy - and 17 in Serie A.

For one of the most prolific strikers in arguably the world's toughest league, Inzaghi can't shoot from any distance. He's not a great dribbler and his heading ability could be generously described as limited.

However he can do certain things better than anyone else in Italian football, such as the blind side run to the edge of the six-yard box, where he scores most of his goals, and beating the offside trap by a centimetre.

Inzaghi's annoying habits of going down easily under a challenge may not make him everybody's favourite footballer, but his knack of being in the right place at the right time has been a major factor in Milan's progress to the final.

JUVENTUSGianluigi Buffon (goalkeeper): Buffon has had an exceptional season in the Italian league but the 25-year-old has saved his best for Europe.

A brilliant display at the Nou Camp provided the platform for Juventus's dramatic 2-1 quarter-final, second leg win against Barcelona.

Buffon followed that with an equally impressive performance in the semi-final, second leg victory over holders Real Madrid at the Delle Alpi stadium where he saved Luis Figo's second-half penalty with Juve leading 2-0.Juve went on to win the match 3-1 and advanced to the final 4-2 on aggregate.

Eyebrows were raised when Juventus paid Parma 45 million euros for Buffon in 2001 but the Italy international has proved to be a sound investment for the Turin club.

Ciro Ferrara (defender): The ice-cool 36-year-old Neapolitan is the most experienced player in the Juventus team, playing a pivotal role in the club's 27th league title success this season.

The 'Bianconeri' had the best defence in Serie A, letting in a miserly 29 goals this season.

In his ninth season with Juventus, Ferrara will be appearing in his third Champions League final.

He was a winner with Juve in 1996 when they beat Ajax but ended up on the losing side the following season against Borussia Dortmund.

A year later Ferrara broke his leg and missed the 1998 final which Juventus lost to Real Madrid.

Made his Serie A debut as an 18-year-old at Napoli playing in the same team as legendary Argentine striker Diego Maradona.

Edgar Davids (Midfielder): The dynamic 30-year-old Dutchman, knicknamed 'Pitbull' because of his fighting spirit, was on the brink of leaving Juventus for Roma at the start of the season following a contract dispute with the board.

He was persuaded to stay on and Juventus have been thankful ever since.

The Dutch international has had an outstanding season for the Turin giants, forging an excellent understanding with Czech star Pavel Nedved, who will miss the final because of suspension.

A box-to-box player, Davids will be even more important to coach Marcello Lippi in the absence of Nedved in the centre of midfield.

Alessandro Del Piero (striker): The 28-year-old forward has scored 16 goals in Serie this season despite missing almost two months with a thigh injury.

The most important of his four Champions League goals was Juventus' second in the 3-1 semi-final, second leg win against Real.

Receiving the ball on the left-hand side of the penalty area, Del Piero bewitched two defenders and appeared to be shaping up for a curler into the far corner.

But instead the Italy international drilled a low shot in at the near post which goalkeeper Iker Casillas had left unguarded.

Comfortable with the ball on either foot, Del Piero is affectionately known as 'Il Pinturichio' after the 16th century Italian renaissance artist.