AC Milan ready to ‘put on a good show’ for fans against Real Madrid in Dubai

When Italian football stopped for its winter break, AC Milan were seventh in the table as they continued their bid for a return to Uefa Champions League football, reports Paul Radley.

AC Milan captain Riccardo Montolivo, left, says his squad are ready and have been impressed with the local support so far. Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno / Getty Images
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DUBAI // The world’s best football team did not make a group trip to the world’s largest shopping mall on Monday. But AC Milan did.

And it turns out, despite the recent decline of one of football’s great clubs, they still have plenty of supporters in this part of the world. It is their rivals in Tuesday night’s Dubai Football Challenge who now greedily hoard all of the most luminous galacticos.

Real Madrid claimed their 10th European Cup last season. Since then they have added the likes of Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez to a squad already boasting Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos.

No wonder Tuesday night’s game at The Sevens is a sell-out, with those names on the bill. Then there is the opposition. Milan, the next most successful side in the history of the competition, did not make it into the 2014/15 Uefa Champions League.

Their playing roster reflects their change of status. Long gone are the Van Bastens, Seedorfs and Pirlos.

Not that their fans in Dubai seemed to mind. Around 1,500 Milan supporters – or “consumers”, as the store manager preferred to term them – packed the entrances of the Adidas shop at Dubai Mall at 11.30am.

The players were due there for a shirt signing and as they arrived, chants of “Forza Milan” echoed down the halls of the mall and across the adjacent ice rink.

Riccardo Montolivo and Stephan El Shaarawy did not need any introduction.

Not many of those assembled had the names of Cristian Zapata or Pablo Amero on the back of their shirts, though.

Instead, there were a few Cafus, a Balotelli, some stragglers wearing Real Madrid shirts and even a heroically brave supporter wearing full Inter Milan kit.

Surely, a few of the congregation, once they reached the front of the queue, were handing the players a pen for the dual purpose of asking for their autograph and, therefore, finding out exactly who they were.

“It is beautiful for us to be here and see so many fans, all showing their emotions for the team,” said Montolivo, Milan’s captain.

“It is gratifying to be, so well-received here and we want to put on a good show for them.

“It is going to be a very tough game and we hope it is going to be a good spectacle for the fans.”

When Italian football stopped for its winter break, Milan were seventh in the table as they continued their bid for a return to Champions League football. Madrid, by contrast, are pursuing the Spanish title from the front.

Montolivo cannot put a limit on how long it is going to regain their place at the game’s very top table.

“How much time it will take us to get back to that level, I don’t know,” he said of Milan’s prospects of again rivalling Madrid in the elite of European football.

“I think we have strong, young players of good quality and we are trying to create a solid group of players of international stature.

“Truly, Real Madrid are now the best team in the world. They have taken on that title so clearly they are the favourites for this game.

“They are very well-schooled but, hopefully, we can deliver a good result.”

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