by Stefano Blin
September 13, 2006
MILAN, Italy (AFP) - AC Milan began their Champions League campaign with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Greek side AEK Athens.
Headed goals in the first half from Filippo Inzaghi and Yoann Gourcuff put Milan in control, before Kaka's 77th-minute penalty wrapped up the three points from their Group H opener.
AEK had their moments, but a home victory never looked in doubt as the six-time European champions came to terms with life in Europe's premier club competition without Andriy Shevchenko, who left for Chelsea in the summer.
Milan, whose Serie A title hopes have been severely dented by an eight-point penalty for match-fixing, next face French side Lille in a fortnight.
Ricardo Oliveira, who Milan signed from Real Betis this summer as a replacement for Shevchenko, was preferred to Alberto Gilardino as a strike partner for Inzaghi.
Playmaker Andrea Pirlo, a key figure in Italy's triumphant World Cup campaign, and centre-back Alessandro Nesta were both rested by Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti and not even named among the substitutes. Pirlo's place went to Cristian Brocchi, a more defensive midfielder, and Dario Simic stepped in for Nesta.
Milan went close to taking the lead in the 12th minute.
Promising French midfielder Gourcuff spotted an overlapping run from Gennaro Gattuso and played in the tough-tackling Italy international whose diagonal shot was saved by Stefano Sorrentino in the AEK goal.
Andrija Delibasic should have done better for AEK when presented with a free header, but his tame effort went straight into Nelson Dida's grateful hands.
Oliveira headed wide before Milan got their noses in front in the 17th minute.
Paolo Maldini, still going strong at the age of 38, crossed from the left to the back post and Inzaghi planted a firm, angled header into the top corner.
Milan doubled their advantage four minutes from half time.
Kaka broke down the right and whipped in a superb cross for Gourcuff whose bullet header gave Sorrentino no chance.
AEK came close to pulling a goal back almost immediately, but Julio Cesar's rasping drive was beaten away by Dida.
The tall Brazilian's palms were stung again shortly after half time by Nikos Liberopoulos' long-range shot, and at the other end Kaka's scissor kick was punched over the bar by Sorrentino.
Vladimir fluffed an easy header in the 73rd minute that would have reopened the tie, before Evangelos Moras brought down Inzaghi in the box to give away a spot-kick which Kaka slammed home.