MILAN (AP) — Seven-time winner AC Milan is in the unfamiliar position of being the overwhelming underdog when it hosts Atletico Madrid in the first leg of its Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.
Atletico's best finish in the competition is runner-up 40 years ago but it is top of the Spanish league along with Barcelona and Real Madrid, and qualified from its group with an almost perfect record — slipping in a 1-1 draw at Zenit St. Petersburg.
Milan is going through another transitional year and is under the guidance of inexperienced coach Clarence Seedorf. The Italian team is further hampered by injuries and suspensions. Despite its difficulties, Milan is the only Italian team to progress to the knockout stages. Can it pull off a shock? Here are five things to know about the match:
KAKA CONCERN: Talismanic AC Milan playmaker Kaka expects to be fully fit in time. Kaka recovered from the flu to play in Friday's 1-0 victory over Bologna but had to be replaced 10 minutes from time after injuring his right ankle. The Brazilian returned to training on Monday. "After Friday's win, we're confident and ready for Wednesday," said Kaka, who scored against Celtic in the group stage. AC Milan is without Sulley Muntari and captain Riccardo Montolivo, who are both suspended, and Stephan El Shaarawy, Valter Birsa, Robinho and Bryan Cristante, who are all injured. Cristian Zapata is also doubtful with injury. New signing Keisuke Honda is cup tied, having played in the Champions League this season for CSKA Moscow.
MILAN MISERY: AC Milan looks to the Champions League as a welcome distraction from its domestic woes. Milan lies ninth in the Serie A after the exact same number of wins, draws and defeats — eight. Its mediocre form got coach Massimiliano Allegri sacked at the beginning of the year, and former player Clarence Seedorf replaced him. It is the 37-year-old's first managerial experience. However, Seedorf knows the tournament better than most. The Dutchman lifted the trophy the last time Milan won the competition, in 2007, and is the only player to have won the league with three different clubs — Ajax, Real Madrid and Milan twice. "They are favorites in every area, but the Champions League is something different," Seedorf said. "I am confident but it will be difficult. We need to have a very great game.