Juventus coach Marcello Lippi was left to accept a shattering penalty shoot-out defeat to AC Milan at Old Trafford last night but still claimed his team are better than the six-time European Cup winners.
Milan deservedly got their hands on the trophy when Andrei Shevchenko slammed home the final spot-kick to give his side a 3-2 win on penalties after the Italian giants had slugged their way through 120 scoreless minutes.
It was not the anticipated outcome for Juventus, who have strolled to successive Serie A titles, but the loss of influential Czech Pavel Nedved through suspension and injuries to Igor Tudor and Edgar Davids in normal time created a hole which the Turin outfit could not fill.
“It is a really bad night for us,” admitted Lippi.
“Everything which could have gone wrong did and to lose on penalties feels terrible.
“But I don’t think you can say Milan are a better side than us based on this one game.
“Over the past two seasons we have earned 27 more points than them and won two league titles so overall we are the better team. In the Champions League this season though, they have done a very good job.”
In an entertaining match which made up for its lack of clear goalscoring opportunities with consistent technical excellence, Milan held the attacking edge and had an early Shevchenko effort ruled out for offside before a flying header from former Juventus striker Filippo Inzaghi forced the best save of the night from Gigi Buffon.
Juve’s closest effort came a minute after the interval when substitute Antonio Conte bulleted a header against the crossbar before both sides started to run out of steam.
“It’s party time,” said a jubilant Milan coach Carlos Ancelotti, who was celebrating his first trophy in charge after previously winning the competition as a player.
“We started well and created some dangerous situations, especially in the first half and though we were in trouble with injuries as well as the match continued, Juventus didn’t have the energy to impose themselves.”
Lippi admitted there were some members of his multi-talented squad who were not willing to step forward to take a penalty and those who did looked nervous, particularly David Trezeguet, who saw his opening kick saved by Didi.
Buffon did his best to keep Juventus in it with saves from Clarence Seedorf and Kakha Kaladze, but Didi went one better by also keeping out the efforts of Marcelo Zalayeta and Paolo Montero to give Milan the trophy.
“Four or five players didn’t want to take penalties but I am not going to criticise them for that,” said Lippi.
“They didn’t refuse, they just said they didn’t feel like taking them. The coach never has to take one and it would have been useless if I had tried to push them into it.”
While Seedorf became the first player to win the competition with three different clubs, for Alessandro del Piero it was another unhappy evening.
The golden boy of Italian football has now lost three Champions League finals and the 2000 European Championships and must despair about not adding to the single winners’ medal he picked up in 1996.
All that is of little consequence to Ancelotti though, who has overcome criticism of his coaching abilities early in the season to win the biggest prize European club football has to offer.
“The criticism didn’t get on my nerves,” he said. “You have to live with it.
“I tried to keep my cool during the penalties because I knew my team would do their best and I also thought it would help them stay calm.
“Thankfully it all finished as we would have hoped.”