Pippo Inzaghi inflicts Milan's revenge

Liverpool leave Greece knowing they had done all they could, but pondering the fact they will not take a sixth European Cup until they are capable of more, writes Kevin McCarra.

Revenge is supposed to be served cold, but Milan will still dine happily on a lukewarm dish. They have dealt with Liverpool, whose fightback in Istanbul two years ago had been a humiliation for the Italian club, and the European Cup is once again theirs, for a seventh time.

None the less, the main impression was of a pair of clubs in need of redevelopment.

Milan can claim that they merited the victory by being suave, especially in the smooth creation of Pippo Inzaghi's second goal after 82 minutes. With the holding player Javier Mascherano substituted by then, Kaka was at liberty to ease a pass through the inside-right channel and the poacher rounded Pepe Reina before angling the ball home.

There was nothing quite so deft from Rafael Benitez's players, but Milan rendered themselves vulnerable by becoming light-headed with complacency. It was triumphalist for the coach Carlo Ancelotti to substitute Inzaghi in the 88th minute so the forward could wallow in a personal ovation. Milan minds wandered.

Within seconds Jermaine Pennant's corner from the left was flicked on by Daniel Agger and headed in by Dirk Kuyt. There was to be no recreation of Istanbul here, however, and the attempt to recover was more a pastiche of 2005 than a recreation.

Liverpool had done relatively well before falling behind on the verge of the interval, yet at the same time they made an eloquent case for the investment Benitez seeks in the transfer market.

Boudewijn Zenden disappointed on the left and while Pennant was prominent on the other wing he did not devise many openings, partly because there was just one outright forward to be located, in the form of Kuyt, before the introduction of Peter Crouch. With the constricted means at their disposal, Liverpool can take a degree of satisfaction in the display.

Steven Gerrard was as prominent as ever, even if it was inconceivable that he could replicate the influence of 2005. Frustration ambushed him here, attempts tended to whistle off-target. When a mistake by Rino Gattuso left him to run past Alessandro Nesta in the 62nd minute, Liverpool's captain was too deliberate with a finish that Dida saved to his left.

The game had spells when Liverpool were hungrier, even as Milan hogged a larger share of possession. Milan's unreliable left-back Marek Jankulovski got into trouble after 11 minutes and Pennant, following a one-two with Kuyt, extended Dida. None the less, this was a subdued final in which the wiles of Kaka sometimes took place in areas of such little significance that even Liverpool could have afforded to enjoy them.

Paolo Maldini usually took pleasure in the occasion, seldom sighting an opposition forward let alone being forced to confront the truth that his 38-year-old frame should be a liability in a frenetic sport. In the end, the centre-back won the European Cup for the fifth time with Milan.

There are occasions when the side suffers from an infirmity that is not to be blamed on the veteran Maldini. When they were drubbing Manchester United 3-0 at San Siro, a game he missed through injury, there was a spell when they dealt with the visitors' attacks by bashing the ball away aimlessly. Some overtones of that were witnessed in Athens, but Liverpool could not force enough of them.

A first-half that would largely have satisfied Benitez had the sourest of conclusions. Xabi Alonso fouled Kaka in the most opportune position for Milan, some 20 yards from the target. Andrea Pirlo's free-kick in the 45th minute would have been saved by Reina had it not pinged off the shoulder of Pirlo as he rushed through with the poacher's eternal hope that the ball will run loose for him.

In its scruffiness and complete lack of technique, it was a trademark goal for Inzaghi, even if he brought real accomplishment to this final with his other strike. No one in the Liverpool ranks looked as if they expected the opener to be disallowed for handball by the referee Herbert Fandel.

Milan had been quite languid, presumably confident victory would be achieved so long as they did not leave themselves open to the sucker punch of Liverpool counter-attacks. There were just sketchy indications of their intentions, with some efforts, through players such as the sound Massimo Oddo, to get behind the Liverpool left-back John Arne Riise.

Yet Milan did not make anyone gasp at the sophistication of their display. Clarence Seedorf plummeted back into anonymity. Mascherano and Alonso took some credit for the stifling of the Dutchman.

The creative element of the Liverpool line-up is the issue that perturbs Benitez. But he can be glad there is no need to doubt the squad's endeavour. Crouch, with the sort of effort not usually associated with him, had Dida tipping an attempt from distance over soon after Inzaghi's clincher.

Liverpool will leave Greece knowing they had done all they could, but pondering the fact they will not take a sixth European Cup until they are capable of more.

� Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007

Liverpool departed the arena choked by disappointment but with frustration welling in their midst. Rafael Benitez was still berating the officials for denying his side more added time at the end while his crestfallen side shuffled towards their supporters to acknowledge their deafening contribution with an acceptance that luck had deserted them this time around.

"We were in control and had created a few chances ourselves in the first half, but you have to have some good fortune to score against a team like Milan," bemoaned Dirk Kuyt, whose reward came too late with a close-range header as the seconds ticked away.

"But they were really lucky to score with a deflection just before half-time. Their player (Filippo Inzaghi) didn't know he'd touched the ball in the area when it went in. We tried so hard to get level again, but unfortunately it just didn't happen."

Benitez had flung Harry Kewell and, eventually, Peter Crouch into the fray in a last ditch attempt to force parity only for Milan to bite deep on the counter-attack. The Spaniard's mood had hardly improved as he confronted his disappointment well after the final whistle, his principal frustration centring on the German referee Herbert Fandel's award of three minutes of added time at the end. To make matters worse, the official then called a halt to proceedings before that period had elapsed.

"Two minutes, 45 seconds and 51 (hundredths of a second)," growled Benitez. "He had said three minutes, but anyway. I don't want to say anything. It's clear. It could have given us more momentum because we had just scored and I had real confidence that we could get another. I was surprised that we didn't play out that time.

"But, I suppose at the end of the day you need to score the goals in 90 minutes. Maybe, if we'd had more time it would have been better, but I was disappointed for two or three things that everybody could see. But I don't want to use that as an excuse."

Dominic Fifield � Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007

For Steven Gerrard, defeat was the nadir of a footballing life. "At the moment my heart is in two pieces and this is the lowest point of my career," said the midfielder, whose career has been scored more than most in peaks and troughs.

Unlike two years ago there was no need for emphatic declarations of loyalty with Chelsea in the background. Gerrard will, barring catastrophe, be at Anfield for the start of the season. "It's how you bounce back from setbacks that counts," he said. "The finals I've lost in my career have made me stronger as a person. We will be a better side for this.

"You know if you win you'll be on top of the world and if you lose you'll be right down there at the bottom. So it's about me and the team picking ourselves up and being better next season."

Rafael Benitez felt that the final offered Liverpool's new owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, a clear indication of what will be required to return the club to the pinnacle of the domestic and European game. The manager said the club would require "two steps at a time" in the transfer market if they were to catch up with the likes of Milan, Chelsea and Manchester United and challenge for honours.

The Rossoneri had not yet returned to the dressing room from their delirious lap of honour when Benitez turned his attentions to Liverpool's future by implying that his current squad was already performing to its limits and reinforcements were required. "My first idea is to support my players, who worked really hard and did their best," he said. "That is clear. Afterwards you need to think about the future and we know we need to improve. Maybe, if we do, we can be contenders.

"I hope I do get the (financial) backing. At the moment it is easy to see that my players cannot achieve more things than we have with this team. If we want to be closer to Manchester United or to Chelsea, and get this far in the Champions League again, we may need to take two steps at a time. You could see the difference (between Liverpool and Milan). They had players who could be isolated and alone, but you could see what they can do. They have a lot of players with a lot of quality."

Where Milan boasted a creative midfielder of Kaka's calibre and a predatory striker in Filippo Inzaghi, the Premiership side were too gummy in the last third to damage the Italians. It is a problem that has undermined them all season.

"We had some chances in the first half and we were controlling almost everything," added Benitez. "They crossed two or three times and Jose Reina caught the ball easily, but we were in command other than that. But, in that situation, you need to take your chances and score goals. When you see the quality of players they (Milan) have, we have to think about improving. But we need to take more than one step at a time."

Dominic Fifield � Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007