Champions League Final preview

It’s now Champions League Final week. Two days to go. Hearts start beating faster by the hour for fans of Liverpool and Milan. By the i

UEFA will announce later today who they have chosen to referee the game. Liverpool and Milan’s teams will be kept secret by the two coaches for as long as possible.

Neither team have any suspended players, although there are injuries in both camps.

Reuters have taken a guess at what the teams are likely to be:

AC Milan: 1-Dida; 2-Cafu, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 3-Paolo Maldini, 4-Kakha Kaladze (or 31-Jaap Stam); 8-Gennaro Gattuso, 21-Andrea Pirlo, 20-Clarence Seedorf; 22-Kaka; 11-Hernan Crespo (or 9-Filippo Inzaghi), 7-Andriy Shevchenko.

Liverpool: 1-Jerzy Dudek; 3-Steve Finnan, 23-Jamie Carragher, 4-Sami Hyypia, 21-Djimi Traore; 16-Dietmar Hamann (or 25-Igor Biscan), 8-Steven Gerrard, 6-John Arne Riise; 10-Luis Garcia, 5-Milan Baros (or 9-Djibril Cisse)

Although neither team have met competitively before, Liverpool did win a friendly between the two teams.

Some more facts and figures, courtesy of Reuters:

— Liverpool are bidding to become only the second team to win the Champions League after qualifying in fourth place in their domestic league. Ironically, the only other team to do so were Milan. They won the European title two years ago after finishing only fourth in Italy the previous season.

— Bayern Munich are the only other team to become European champions after finishing outside the top three in their domestic league the previous season. They placed only 10th in the Bundesliga in 1975 but qualified for the European Cup as reigning champions, winning their third trophy in a row in 1976.

— Although the Champions League has opened the tournament to teams from major leagues who were not their domestic title winners, nine of the 12 previous Champions League winners have entered the tournament as champions of their country.

— Apart from Milan, the only exceptions were Manchester United in 1999 and Real Madrid in 2000. Both had finished as runners-up in their previous league campaigns.

— Milan are playing in their 10th European Cup or Champions League final and are aiming for their seventh victory. Only Real Madrid, with nine titles, have been European champions more times.

— Milan have kept nine clean sheets in 12 Champions League games this season, including the abandoned quarter-final with Inter Milan when they were awarded a 3-0 win.

— Milan conceded three goals in their semi-final second leg away to PSV Eindhoven, the same number of goals they had let in in their 11 previous matches of the campaign.

— Milan failed to score in three of their last four Champions League finals, the 0-0 with Juventus two years ago when they won on penalties, the 0-1 defeat by Ajax Amsterdam in 1995 and the 0-1 loss to Olympique Marseille in 1993. The only exception was the thumping 4-0 win over Barcelona in 1994.

— Since the European Cup became the Champions League, Milan have appeared in more finals than any other team. This is their fifth. Juventus have played in four and Real Madrid in three.

— Milan beat their last English opponents, Manchester United, 1-0 home and away in the last 16 of this season’s competition.

— This will be Milan’s 13th European final altogether. They also played in three Cup Winners Cup finals, winning twice.

— Liverpool are playing in the final of Europe’s premier club competition for the first time since the 1985 defeat to Juventus in the infamous and tragic Heysel Stadium final when 39 Italian fans lost their lives.

— It is Liverpool’s first Champions League final. They reached the European Cup final five times, winning four between 1977 and 1984 in their golden years.

— In all it will be Liverpool’s 10th European final. They won the UEFA Cup three times, the last in 2001 when they beat Alaves of Spain 5-4 in the most high-scoring final in recent years, and reached the Cup Winners Cup final once.

— Liverpool have played 14 games in this season’s competition, including the qualifying round, and have kept clean sheets in seven of them.

— Liverpool beat Milan’s arch-rivals Juventus 2-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals of this season’s competition.

— Liverpool are meeting an Italian team for the third successive time in the match to decide Europe’s champion club following their victory over AS Roma on penalties in 1984 and their loss to Juventus in 1985.

— Ruud van Nistelrooy of Manchester United will almost certainly finish as top scorer with eight goals in this season’s Champions League even though his side were knocked out in the last 16. Milan and Liverpool’s top scorers, Andriy Shevchenko and Luis Garcia, have scored five each.