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Milan clubs' seasons hang in the balance

Written by: Staff
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MILAN, Mar 30 (Reuters) In Italian football the line between hero and zero is as thin as a slice of the local ham as the coaches both Milan clubs are well aware after yesterday's Champions League quarter-final first legs.

Inter beat Spanish side Villarreal 2-1 at the San Siro and AC Milan were held to a goalless draw away to Olympique Lyon.

With Juventus leading Serie A by eight points and only seven matches remaining, the Milan clubs know that Europe is their best hope of success this season.

After the draw ruled out any meeting in the last four, there remains a chance of a Milan derby in the final.

But exit from the competition at this stage, and against sides the Italians expect to beat, would be treated as a huge failure and could even have repercussions on the futures of coaches Roberto Mancini and Carlo Ancelotti.

Mancini's Inter have a slight advantage for the return at the Madrigal on Tuesday but the away goal Diego Forlan scored for Villarreal after just 45 seconds could yet prove decisive.

''The important thing was to win,'' said Inter owner Massimo Moratti.

''I wouldn't say I'm worried, but we will have to be careful and aware that it is a difficult match. However, it was an important result and a draw will get us through,'' he said.

Inter hope that for the return game they will have former Real Madrid winger Luis Figo back from injury.

''He's a player with class and experience, his absence is always felt,'' said Mancini.

''Thanks to his great technical ability he is very important when we attack, especially in delivering the final ball.'' MISSED CHANCES Milan were left to rue striker Andriy Shevchenko's failure to convert a series of good chances and also an unfortunate bobble which diverted a promising shot from Brazilian Kaka.

Having failed to get a goal in France, Milan need victory at the San Siro on Tuesday and Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf is convinced the Rossoneri can do just that.

''We will find the goal at home that we were unable to get in Lyon. I am totally confident. We didn't concede and that is positive...We demonstrated that we are superior.

''We must have the humility to play with great attention and concentration, in addition to being dangerous in front of goal. If they score, then the French will suffer from our style of play even more,'' he added.

Ancelotti, who guided Milan to the Champions League title in 2003 and to the final last season, recently signed an extension to his contract but in the fickle world of Italian football his position would be brought under scrutiny if his side went out at the last-eight stage.

''It was a good result but it doesn't leave me completely relaxed,'' he said.

Reuters DH BD1825

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