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Apr 26, 2006

Rijkaard delighted with battling display

BARCELONA, April 26 (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard said it came as no surprise that his team were made to battle every inch of the way to overcome AC Milan and book their place in their first Champions League final in 12 years.

The Catalan side, who had lost on their last two semi-final appearances in 2000 and 2002, edged out the six-times European champions 1-0 on aggregate after a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.

'We did the job, achieved our objective and we are all very happy for reaching the final,' said the Dutchman, who won two European Cups with Milan in 1989 and 1990.

'I think the team worked really well. We knew we would have to suffer against Milan because they are a great team with some great players. The players fought for every minute and were focused throughout.

'It was an interesting game and both teams played quite well. We had our chances but we always had to pay attention to their players. In the second half they had to press harder for the goal. It was a very hard-earned victory.'

Barca were in control for most of the game but squandered chances in each half and it was Milan who looked to have taken the lead when Andriy Shevchenko headed the ball into the net 20 minutes from time.

RULED OUT

But the Ukraine striker's effort was ruled out after he made light contact with centre-back Carles Puyol.

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said he saw no reason why Shevchenko's goal should have been disallowed and stressed that the game could have gone either way.

'Shevchenko's goal was absolutely legal,' he said. 'He jumped and hardly touched Puyol when he headed it.

'It was a very important game and very close, either side could have gone through. The tie was always in the balance and we were close to the final.'

But Ancelotti, who a former team mate of Rijkaard's at Milan, was generous in defeat. 'Milan played as we always do but the luck went with Barcelona this time. Barca deserve to be in the final, they have a great squad and played well.'

Rijkaard gave a dead pan response when asked about Shevchenko's effort. 'I didn't think any more than the fact that the goal was disallowed,' he said.

Barcelona will now meet Arsenal in the final in Paris on May 17 after the English side edged out Villarreal in the other semi-final on Tuesday, also with a 0-0 draw after a 1-0 first leg win.

'I think Arsenal have done a great job in getting to the final. They are a very good team with a lot of youngsters. They deserve to reach the final and seriously strong opponents,' said the Dutchman.