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Holders AC Milan owe it to Inzaghi


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MILAN, Italy (Reuters) -- Filipo Inazghi continued his recent goalscoring form as holders AC Milan made a winning start to their Group H campaign with a 1-0 win over Ajax.

Inzaghi pounced on a loose ball after 67 minutes to fire home his sixth goal in four matches to break the deadlock at the San Siro, but it ended on a sour note for Milan who had Gennaro Gattuso sent off in stoppage time.

In the other Group H match, Club Bruges ended with nine men in a 1-1 draw with Celta Vigo.

Carlo Ancelotti's Milan side had goalkeeper Dida to thank for a magnificent save in injury time to keep out a close-range strike from Ajax midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, minutes after Milan midfielder Gattuso had been sent off.

It was a hairy end to the night for Milan and until Inzaghi's strike, his sixth in four games including his goals for Italy in recent Euro 2004 qualifiers, Ajax had produced the better chances.

The win was not a spectacular opening to the European season for Milan but they still managed to display the combination of attractive football, determination and luck that guided them to last season's title.

Ajax, beaten in the quarter-finals by Milan last term, showed they will again be a difficult side to beat although they will regret not making more of their extensive possession.

The Dutch side, displaying their classic passing game, had the best chances of the first half with the influential Rafael van der Vaart striking the bar with a free-kick in the 25th minute before Dida was forced into a diving save to keep out a Zlatan Ibrahimovic header.

Milan's main inspiration came from 21-year-old Brazilian Kaka, making an impressive Champions League debut after being selected ahead of Portugal's Rui Costa.

Kaka drew roars of appreciation from the San Siro crowd with some delightful touches and frequently troubled the Ajax defence with his dribbling.

But too often Milan moves broke down in the final stages of attack and they then found it hard to regain possession.

Milan's best efforts before the break were a Shevchenko volley that flew over the bar and a Kaka drive just wide after a swift reaction to a poor clearance from Lobont.

Ancelotti was forced into a change in the 33rd minute when Alessandro Costacurta limped off to be replaced by Dane Martin Laursen with captain Paolo Maldini moving over to left back.

There was little between the two teams after the break and it took a rare piece of co-operation between Milan's goal-poaching forwards to provide the breakthrough.

Inzaghi turned well on the edge of the Ajax area and fed Shevchenko whose low shot was pushed out by Lobont only for Inzaghi to pounce on the loose ball and fire them into the lead.

Milan then launched a series of attacks as they sought a second, Shevchenko going close twice, a first-time shot after a great ball from substitute Serginho was parried away and then Lobont did well again to keep out a header from the Ukrainian.

But Milan's plans to wind the game down were disrupted when Gattuso was dismissed after striking out at Ibrahimovic and Ajax piled forward in hope of a late equaliser.

It almost came when after a piercing run from Hatem Trabelsi, who had troubled Milan's left flank throughout, the ball fell to van der Vaart but Dida pulled off a stunning save to foil the close-range strike.

Battling Bruges hold on

Club Bruges, down to nine men in the closing minutes, hung on for a 1-1 draw in their opening Champions League Group H match against Celta Vigo on Tuesday.

The Belgian side played the entire second half with 10 men after Peruvian winger Andres Mendoza was sent off in the last minute of the first half.

Five minutes after the re-start, Juanfran scored the Spanish goal after racing through the Belgian defence on his own.

Bruges struggled until coach Trond Sollied brought on Ivan Gvozdenovic and Bengt Saeternes and it was Saeternes who equalised with six minutes left.

Sandy Martens was dismissed with a minute of normal time to go but Bruges clung on.


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