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NST Online: Sports

Ibra absence hurts Milan's derby hopes

Posted: 31 Mar 2011 09:59 PM PDT

AC Milan’s  star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be featuring in their  derby against Inter Milan  tomorrow. — AFP picture

AC Milan's star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be featuring in their derby against Inter Milan tomorrow. — AFP picture

ROME: AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani has admitted that the absence of star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic for tomorrow's derby against Inter Milan is a huge blow.

The Sweden forward is serving the second of a two-match ban imposed for striking Bari's Marco Rossi in the ribs.

He was originally banned for the regulation three games for violent conduct but his sentence was surprisingly reduced on appeal.

Milan suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at Palermo in the one game he missed so far and Galliani admitted they will feel his absence tomorrow, even though he insisted the derby -- between the top two in Serie A -- won't be decisive in the title race.

"You can still lose the derby and win the league, and vice-versa. It would be decisive if it was the last day of the season and the teams were separated by no more than three points," he said.

"Ibrahimovic has been crucial in every game, both in attack and in defence.

"I don't know if you (journalists) have noticed what he does when defending corners and free-kicks.

"He is an ultra-vital player, it's a shame he won't be playing in the derby but there will be seven more (matches)."

Milan lead Inter by two points with eight matches left to play and Napoli just a point behind the nerazzurri in third in one of the tightest championship finishes in years.

Even outsiders Udinese are only six points off top and they have been in the best form of the top four since the turn of the year.

Even so, this weekend at least, the majority of attention will be focussed on the San Siro and Galliani admits this is the most eagerly anticipated derby in years.

"There's only a thread of extra tension with respect to other games," he said.

"Of course it's been several years since both teams were challenging for the title but the two Champions League games in 2003 were the ones that got to me the most."

Back then Milan eased through on away goals and went on to beat Juventus in the final on penalties. -- AFP

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Dhoni: India must stay focused

Posted: 31 Mar 2011 08:30 AM PDT

NEW DELHI: India were desperate yesterday to prevent their World Cup campaign from being overwhelmed by a wave of national hysteria ahead of tomorrow's final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai.

The semi-final win over arch-rivals Pakistan in Mohali sparked wild late-night celebrations, dominating front pages and leading TV news bulletins.

But captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni warned against complacency.

"There'll be plenty of things happening around us, like in this game against Pakistan, but what's important is not to get distracted. We all know what our jobs are as professional cricketers so we'll stick to that," insisted Dhoni.

"Sri Lanka are a very good side and they have done really well so far in the tournament."

Despite Dhoni's pleadings, the Indian press wasn't listening.

"After this... the Cup is a bonus," said the headline on Mail Today which splashed a picture of the celebrating Indian team across its entire front page.

"India book Mumbai matinee," offered the Hindustan Times front page while its sports pages opted for "We hate to lose", before adding ..."finally we have a team that embraces pressure instead of buckling under it".

Dhoni also praised master batsman Sachin Tendulkar whose 85 runs proved crucial in the 29-run win in Mohali even if he fell short once again of making 100 international centuries.

The superstar player will get another chance tomorrow in his home city of Mumbai.

"He batted really well and when he's there he makes it really easy for the others to score because he guides them really well," said Dhoni.

"If you bat with Sachin for 15 games you have the kind of experience you'd have after 50 games."

Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara believes his team's qualification for the final can further unite a country steadily finding its feet after the end of a decades-long civil war.

"Cricket has always been the panacea that heals all in Sri Lanka, so winning the World Cup final would be huge for the country," said Sangakarra, who praised his team's national pride.

"There are times when there is talk of the Indian Premier League, the money involved and everything. But let me tell you, we take pride in playing for our country." -- AFP

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