Despite the fact that AC Milan have never lost away to Empoli in Serie A, the Stadio Castellani is still evocative of hard-fought matches in the past. This sentiment is reflected in the cold, hard data too, as there have been seven draws in 13 matches from 1986 to today. Of these six wins, there is one that really has lived long in the memory, especially due to the particular moment in which it fell. It was 6 December 2003, a few months after the triumph in Manchester against Juventus and just eight days before the Intercontinental Cup final against Boca Juniors.
SETTING THE SCENE
With memories of wins in the Champions League and the Coppa Italia fresh in the mind and a summer that saw the arrivals of Cafu and Kaká, the 2003/04 season got underway with the Rossoneri winning the European Supercup for the fourth time in their history, beating Mourinho's Porto. AC Milan had started well in the league: 27 points from eleven matches - eight wins and three draws - meant that Ancelotti's side went into this clash in Tuscany level on points with Roma at the top of Serie A. With qualification to the Champions League round of 16 already in the back, the game at the Castellani was the last fixture before the trip to Tokyo against Boca. It was a must-win game if the Rossoneri were to stay in the title race with Lippi's Juventus and Capello's Giallorossi.
A TENSE AFFAIR
The importance of the fixture was reflected in the strength of the starting line-up chosen by Ancelotti. Carletto went with his usual 4-3-2-1 with Dida between the posts; Pancaro, Nesta, Maldini and Costacurta in defence; Seedorf, Pirlo and Gattuso in midfield; Rui Costa in behind the two strikers Shevchenko and Tomasson. It was a tight opening period and Empoli managed to both halt the Rossoneri'sadvance and threaten Dida's goal with an attack led by di Natale and Rocchi. Th first half went by without any real excitement and the same can be said for the opening of the second half and Ancelotti had to look to the bench for solutions.
There were just 16 minutes to go and on came the young number 22, who had just joined the Club from São Paolo. After four straight starts in the league at the start of the season - and the precious goal in the Derby against Inter - Kaká had, thereafter, been limited to a substitute role in Serie A, playing more minutes in the Champions League. That evening, it took Ricky just seven minutes to justify Ancelotti sending him into the fray. In the 81st minute, the mercurial Brazilian received the ball from Seedorf around 40 yards out; Kaká set off towards Bucci and let fly from range, rifling an unstoppable effort into the back of the net. It was the decisive goal - Kaká's second in the league and third for the Club - that secured three vital points as the Rossoneri went on to secure their 17th Scudetto.
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