MILAN, Sep 17 (Reuters) AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti believes his European champions will improve on recent performances when Benfica and former midfielder Rui Costa visit San Siro in their Champions League opener tomorrow.
Milan, who were held at home by Fiorentina in Serie A before the international break, could only draw 1-1 at Siena on Saturday with defender Alessandro Nesta sparing their blushes with an injury-time equaliser.
''We don't need to worry, this team are reliable even when they are not playing well,'' Ancelotti told the Milan Channel. ''We are not afraid to admit we did not play very well, but against Benfica it will be a different story.'' The seven times European champions are still without injured striker Ronaldo after Milan doctors said they had misdiagnosed the thigh injury that has kept him out this season.
The Brazilian, who has lost lots of weight in the close season, flew to Antwerp and Rio De Janeiro to ask for second opinions after becoming frustrated at his failure to recover.
Defender Paolo Maldini, 39, will also not return until late September after having knee surgery to allow him to play one final season and search for a ninth European Cup final and sixth winners' medal.
However, the draw in Siena had more to do with Ancelotti's team selection than any enforced absences.
Kaka was among a number of players rested with the coach clearly having one eye on Tuesday's Group D match against a Benfica team who finished third in Portugal last season.
The Lisbon side have also made a patchy start to the season but were buoyed by Saturday's 3-0 home win over Naval when midfielder Rui Costa scored one and created lots more.
The only downside was a knee ligament injury to midfielder Armando Petit, which has ruled him out for up to six weeks.
The 35-year-old Rui Costa, who played for Milan from 2001 to 2006 and won a Champions League title with the Rossoneri in 2003, is looking forward to going back.
''At Milan I'll face a team with whom I became a European champion and where there are many of my friends. It will be a special game for me because of this but I'll give my utmost for Benfica,'' he told Benfica's Web site (www.slbenfica.pt).
The Lisbon side, European Cup winners in 1961 and 1962, lost the 1963 and 1990 finals to Milan.
Probable teams: Milan: Dida; Massimo Oddo, Alessandro Nesta, Kakha Kaladze, Marek Jankulovski; Massimo Ambrosini, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf; Kaka, Filippo Inzaghi.
Benfica: Quim; Luis Filipe, Miguel Vitor, Edcarlos, Leo; Konstantinos Katsouranis, Rui Costa, Maxi Pereira, Cristian Rodriguez; Angel Di Maria, Nuno Gomes.
Referee: Mike Riley (England) Reuters BJR RS1012