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Feb 17, 2014

Diego Costa lauds Mario Balotelli

ESPN FC's Gabriele Marcotti discusses Mario Balotelli's importance to Milan and clears the air for why he was crying during the Napoli match.

Diego Costa has hailed Mario Balotelli as one of the world’s best players, ahead Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg between Atletico Madrid and AC Milan.

Champions League Matchday 7: Key talking points

Costa and Balotelli are set to meet for the first time at the San Siro, when fans of each side will be hoping their prolific but temperamental centre-forward has a bigger influence on proceedings.

Asked by AS if he felt he and Balotelli were similar styles of strikers, the Brazil-born attacker dodged the question, while heaping praise on the former Manchester City player. 

“I do not know about that... I do not think so,” Costa said. “[But] he is a great player, one of the best in the world.”

Costa said that visiting Milan’s famous San Siro ground would motivate not burden him and his teammates.

“I like the big games,” he said. “Atletico is a big team which should be playing these type of games. I get motivated by games like this. It is a nice game, and I am going to San Siro to enjoy it. We know what Atletico stands for. I believe we can do something good there.”

Milan’s poor form in Serie A this season was not an issue, Costa said, pointing out that just last week pundits in Spain had been saying Atletico were in a slump after three consecutive defeats.

“A few days ago it was said that we were going through our worst moment of the season,” he said. “We do not look at these things. A team as big as Milan has a lot of tradition for these games, and to get something out of there we will have to play the most complete game possible.”

Rossoneri legend Demetrio Albertini, who spent the 2002-03 season at Atletico, also feels that the tie is a clash of the Spanish side's higher confidence against Milan’s greater history.

The three-time Champions League winner told AS that Atletico’s current form gives them an advantage, although Milan’s European pedigree cannot be discounted.

“Atletico have an advantage, they are the favourites, their place in La Liga says this, but do not forget something,” Albertini said. “The Champions League is Milan’s home. They have seven European Cups, the history is there. Atletico are having an impressive season, staying up there with Madrid and Barcelona and playing with a lot of determination. They are very dangerous as they have the confidence of a winning team.”

AC Milan coach Clarence Seedorf, meanwhile, will be hoping for good news from his club doctors on Monday as he prepares for the biggest game of his reign so far.

Kaka sprained his ankle in Friday night's 1-0 win over Bologna while Cristian Zapata, the only player to have played every minute of the Rossoneri's Champions League campaign so far, has a thigh strain.

Both are being monitored closely with Kaka optimistically telling Mediaset television that he "will be fit for Wednesday", even though he was unable to train on Sunday.

Should the Brazilian miss out, Seedorf could turn to Giampaolo Pazzini for a place in his attack with the alternative of leaving Mario Balotelli alone up front not part of the Dutch coach's mentality, as he made clear in an interview with UEFA.com.

"I like to see a game with a team who likes to attack," he said. "I'm not really fond of the teams who are always waiting behind and only counterattacking. If you ask me what really excites me in terms of the game, [then it's] for sure the teams that like to score more than one goal a game."

Keisuke Honda is ineligible while Robinho and Stephan El Shaarawy are out injured, leaving Seedorf short on numbers to play his preferred attacking football in the biggest game since he replaced Massimiliano Allegri at the helm.

With 18 points separating Milan from third-placed Napoli in Serie A, success in Europe has become a priority for the remainder of the season.

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