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Apr 5, 2006

Rijkaard cautious as Milan semi-final awaits

BARCELONA, April 5 (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard says his side will face a tough task when they take on his former club AC Milan in the Champions League semi-finals following their 2-0 aggregate win over Benfica.

'I think it will be a very interesting game against a very strong team,' said the Dutchman who won two European Cups with the Italian giants.

'They've been playing at an extremely high level in recent years and have got a very strong squad of players.'

But Rijkaard denied that the game would hold special significance for him because he was facing up to his former club who are managed by his old Milan team mate Carlo Ancelotti.

'Personally for me the tie will not mean anything special because I have faced them before both as a player and as a coach. It will just be a hard fought game between two very strong sides.'

Rijkaard said that the additional tension of a Champions League quarter-final had contributed to his side's nervy performance against Benfica at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.

'Benfica have the reputation of playing very well away from home and they created a couple of very dangerous occasions during the match, so the tension was understandable,' said the Dutchman. 'While the score was 1-0 we could never relax.

'We played well in the first half, but there was more tension in the second half. We were winning but the situation could change at any moment. I was delighted we could score a second goal to allow us to relax.'

PENALTY MISS

Barca were unable to grasp the chance to take an early lead when Ronaldinho missed a fifth-minute penalty, but the Brazilian atoned for his error when he put his side ahead midway through the half.

But with Benfica only needing a goal to turn the tie, the Primera Liga side were never sure of a semi-final place until Samuel Eto'o put them 2-0 up two minutes from time.

Benfica coach Ronald Koeman said that his side had also suffered from the tension of the tie.

'We found it difficult to settle at the start and were nervous but we improved as the game wore on and had a couple of chances to equalise that would have put them out,' he said.

The former Barcelona player criticised the refereeing in both legs of the tie saying that decisions had gone in the Catalans' favour at crucial moments in both matches.

'Barca were superior over the two games, but there appeared to be a certain influence against us from the referees,' he said. 'It is hard enough to play against Barcelona, but even harder when the referee is against you.

'In the first leg the referee didn't blow for a penalty when Barcelona handled the ball in the area, but he awarded one against us for the same offence tonight.

'The incidents were more or less the same, but there was a clear difference in the decisions of the two referees.'