MILAN: Italy will glow with pride when Juventus and AC Milan meet in the Champions League final in Manchester tonight but the rest of the world is simply hoping for a spectacle worthy of the occasion.
Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium, the venue for the competition's first ever all-Italian final, is called “The Theatre of Dreams” but for some, the presence of two Serie A sides in the final is closer to a nightmare.
Spain is without a finalist for only the second time in six years after Italian champions Juventus defeated Real Madrid in their semi-final and there are many who regret the absence of Vicente del Bosque's cavalier side.
But while the flair of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo will be missing, Juventus and five-times European champions Milan have produced plenty of enjoyable football this season.
Juve's 3-1 win over Real in the return leg of their semi-final showed the Turin team at their very best and should have left no one in any doubt that Marcello Lippi's side deserve their fourth Champions League final in eight years.
Earlier in the tournament, Milan also beat Real with a sparkling performance in a 1-0 win in the second group stage – a result which followed their 4-0 win away to another Spanish side, Deportivo Coruna, in the first phase.
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti says the game offers an opportunity to answer sceptics who fear an all-Italian match could mean cautious, defensive football.
“The final will provide Italian football with the chance to show what it can do. We will be able to give a good shoulder charge to those critics,” he said.
But all the signs are that the Old Trafford crowd will witness a tight and closely-fought contest.
In Serie A this season, Juventus beat Milan 2-1 at their Delle Alpi stadium and in March Milan won by the same margin at the San Siro.
Only one of the last six meetings of the two teams in the Italian league has ended with a victory by more than a single goal.
“It will be a match in which each side brings to the game what it knows and does best, things which they have demonstrated on many occasions throughout the season,” says Juventus coach Marcello Lippi.
“It will be very even because there aren't any secrets between these two teams,” he added. Indeed, Ancelotti certainly has no shortage of 'inside information' on his opponents.
The Milan coach had two-and-a-half seasons in charge of Juventus and many of his old players will be lining up in Manchester.
“I don't think that is an advantage. I know Juve well but then again they know us. I don't believe there will be any major tactical surprises though,” said Ancelotti.
There are other close connections between the two teams – Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi had four seasons with Juventus while Dutch midfielder Edgar Davids had his first experience in Serie A with Milan before moving to Juventus in 1997.
Having won the Italian title for the past two seasons, Juventus start as slight favourites but the game does offer a clash of styles.
At their best in Europe, Milan have had an attacking edge with Portuguese midfielder Rui Costa operating in an advanced role behind the strike pairing of Inzaghi and Ukrainian Andriy Shevchenko.
With Dutchman Clarence Seedorf, who is aiming for a Champions League win with a third club after victories with Ajax and Real Madrid, on the left and the light-footed Italian Andrea Pirlo operating in front of the defence, Milan are capable of crisp passing and movement.
Juventus rely on pace and power, breaking from deep with thrusting moves into the heart of their opponent's defence. – Reuters