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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Aug 8, 2006

Milan set to begin Champions League adventure

AC Milan's season begins on Wednesday night with a Champions League third qualifying round tie against Red Star Belgrade at the San Siro.

UEFA reluctantly allowed the Rossoneri to enter the competition after the club were docked eight points for their part in the Italian match-fixing scandal.

Serie A is not due to start for over a month due to the appeals in the match-fixing trial, while Italy's World Cup win is still fresh in the memory.

But Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi is hoping the tie will act as a springboard for the new season.

'The World Cup is over now and we have got to re-motivate ourselves,'' he told Milan's official television channel.

'We now have this great opportunity of playing in the Champions League, which is something dear to all of us.''

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti called his squad back to training around two weeks ago after the Rossoneri were admitted into Europe, which meant his Italy internationals had less than two weeks' holiday after winning the World Cup.

Inzaghi feels this could be a handicap against the Serbians, who also have the benefit of having played earlier in the competition.

'It is not going to be easy,'' said the World Cup winner.

'In fact, it may be worse than a final because they have been preparing for two months whereas we have had such a little amount of time.''

Chievo will be Italy's other representative on Wednesday after Juventus, Fiorentina and Lazio were all prevented from playing in Europe this season for their part in the match-fixing scandal.

That has handed the Verona outfit their first Champions League appearance, and although coach Giuseppe Pillon admits the priority this season is Serie A survival, he is determined to guide them past Bulgarian champions Levski Sofia and into the group stage.

'I am used to following the Champions League from my own armchair, but this time it is going to be different,'' he told Sky television.

'This time, I will be involved in it and we will certainly do everything possible to make this dream continue.

'We have arrived here after a fantastic season and we will try to make the most of this opportunity.

'What I have been instilling in the players are the virtues of strength, determination and humbleness and, for this reason, our objective this season is to avoid relegation as soon as possible.''

Chievo's only previous appearance in Europe came in the 2002 UEFA Cup, when they were beaten by Red Star.

Yet despite missing Lorenzo D'Anna, Davide Mandelli, Luciano, Federico Cossato, Alfredo Cariello and Victor Obinna for their European return through injury, Pillon is convinced his side still have enough quality to progress.

'You have got to expect these injuries when you are working as hard as we are, but I have a lot of faith in my players,'' he said.

'I am sure that whoever plays will give it their best. Besides, Chievo are a side whose strength lies in its team spirit.''

Other interesting clashes see ambitious Austrian outfit Red Bull Salzburg take on Spanish giants Valencia while perennial group-stage qualifiers Dynamo Kiev and Fenerbahce go head to head.

Benfica face Austria Vienna, FC Copenhagen take on Ajax, and Champions League debutants Osasuna are up against Hamburg in other notable ties.

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