Soccer

AC Milan out to save its season at Anderlecht

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MILAN (AP)

AC Milan can go a long way to rescuing its season when it faces Anderlecht in Group C of the Champions League on Wednesday.

After an entire squad's worth of top players departed during the offseason, Milan got off to its worst Serie A start in 71 years. However, there are signs of a turnaround after Milan came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 at Napoli on Saturday, although it remains in 12th place, 17 points behind defending champion Juventus.

''We showed a lot of spirit and heart, we have to start again from that,'' Milan midfielder Antonio Nocerino said. ''We intend to represent this shirt, this club and the fans in the best of ways. We have to give even more to take Milan as high as possible. I can't look at our position in the standings.

''We are in this situation and now it's up to us to get out of it. We have to recognize our duty to take Milan back to the top level. We have to push for that, starting on Wednesday in the Champions League.''

Milan is second in Group C and can secure its place in the knockout stage with a win if already-qualified Malaga beats Zenit St. Petersburg.

Milan will again look to Stephan El Shaarawy to lead its attack. The young striker scored both goals against Napoli to take his tally to 10 in the league, and 14 in all competitions.

Milan is without captain Massimo Ambrosini, who has not recovered from the flu.

Anderlecht held Milan to a goalless draw at the San Siro in their first match, but goalkeeper Silvio Proto - who supported Milan at a young age - knows it will be a more difficult encounter this time around.

''Milan is not the same team that we faced at San Siro,'' he said. ''It has picked up more confidence and the players are better mentally. But it's a game of football so anything is possible.

''We also have more confidence, but we have to be careful. We can't go on the attack from the beginning. Milan is an intelligent team, which has really built up a lot of experience in this competition.''

Zenit is last in the group, but only two points behind Milan and a point behind Anderlecht.

Its league match against Dynamo Moscow was called off in the 36th minute on Saturday after Dynamo goalkeeper Anton Shunin was injured when a firecracker thrown from the stands exploded near him.

''Of course, the incident could not help but affect the team's mood,'' Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti said. ''But it will not affect our goals. We have no other choice but to beat Malaga.

''I'm absolutely sure that my players will be ready for the match without any additional motivation. We are facing a decisive match.''

Zenit will be without injured defenders Domenico Criscito and Aleksandr Lukovic. Midfielder Vladimir Bystrov is also doubtful because of a hip injury, but defender Nicolas Lombaerts and Brazilian striker Hulk are back.



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