MILAN (AFP) – The veracity of AC Milan’s resurgence in Italy’s Serie A is set to be put to the test when Barcelona visit the San Siro Wednesday for the first leg of a last 16 tie in the Champions League.
After their worst ever start to a league campaign the Rossoneri have climbed to third place and within touch of securing one of the three Champions League places for next year.
However their survival in this year’s competition could depend on a strong showing in Milan ahead of a return to the formidable surroundings of the Nou Camp on March 12.
Although billed, by Milan, as a match between ‘the best of the world’ — Milan are seven-time European champions while Barcelona, four-time winners, are widely considered the strongest team in the world — the Spanish league leaders have the bragging rights.
The last time the two sides met, in last season’s competition, Barcelona came away from the San Siro with a scoreless draw in the first leg of the quarter-final, before winning 3-1 at home to secure a semi-final spot.
Only four months earlier, Barcelona emerged from Milan with a 3-2 win on their way to topping the group ahead of Milan, while in the 2006 semi-finals the Catalans won 1-0 to virtually secure their place in the final.
Since the recent acquisition of striker Mario Balotelli, AC Milan have continued making up for their disastrous start to sit third in the league, 11 points behind leaders Juventus.
But because he played in this season’s competition with Manchester City, Balotelli is Cup-tied for the remaining Champions League fixtures.
That paves the way for the likes of Bojan Krkic, formerly of Barcelona, to step up for a game that will have special emotional significance as well as being a crucial step in Milan’s roller-coaster season.
“It is a different game, a special game for me but I don’t want to think too much about what feelings I have inside, I just want to concentrate on the game and on the 90 minutes of football that awaits us,” Bojan told acmilan.it.
“I have never played against Barcelona before and for that very reason this is more than just a game for me but all I want to do is help the team.”
He added: “We are going through a positive patch at the moment, we have to believe in ourselves.
“We have to try and work hard and go into the match knowing that we are playing in the knock-out stages of the Champions League, against Barcelona, in one of the biggest matches in the world.
“This isn’t a three point match, this is a game over 180 minutes where goals are all-important. We have to score and also not concede. We have to remain focused for the entire 180 minutes.”
Barcelona currently hold a 12-point lead over Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga in Spain but will travel to Milan without coach Tito Vilanova as he continues treatment in New York to help him recover from a throat cancer operation he underwent before Christmas.
The reins will remain with assistant manager Jordi Roura, who last weekend had occasion to hail star forward Lionel Messi as the Argentine scored a double to take his Barcelona goals tally to beyond the mythical 300 mark.