Maldini says Milan will take Club World Cup seriously

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MILAN, Nov 23 (Reuters) European champions AC Milan are taking the Club World Cup seriously and the tournament comes at the perfect time in the season, captain Paolo Maldini said today.

The event, which takes place in Japan and involves seven clubs from the continental federations around the globe, starts on Dec. 7 with the final on December 16.

The competition has previously been widely criticised by the media, especially when it forced Manchester United to pull out of the FA Cup in 2000.

Under the current format, Milan will play only two matches but have had to move their final Champions League match against Celtic forward by a week to accommodate the tournament.

''We are very proud to participate in the Club World Cup. It is the first time we have played in this new format, which I believe is more difficult than before,'' Maldini told a news conference.

''The first time we went to play (this tournament) not understanding perfectly the importance of this Cup. We realised it only after having won it.'' Milan have stuttered in Serie A this term but are poised to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League.

Maldini said the middle of the season was a good time to go to Japan where they will not play their first match, a semi-final against Iran's Sepahan, New Zealand's Waitakere United or Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds, until December 13.

''At a physical level I believe the squad arrives in Japan at the best moment. Fortunately we will have the necessary time to adapt to the time zone and to the rhythm of Japanese life,'' he said.

REUTERS SSC RN2253

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