Monday, 1 June 2009

Rousing receptions as Serie A stars bow out

Paolo Maldini, Luis Figo & Pavel NedvedTime To Say Goodbye, the duet by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, was arguably the perfect soundtrack to the last round of the Serie A season on Sunday as three of the greatest players in recent football history – Paolo Maldini, Luís Figo and Pavel Nedvěd – said farewell, all of them with a victory.

One-club stalwart Maldini ended his fabulous career in style as AC Milan won 2-0 at Fiorentina and secured themselves a return to the Champions League group stage, a competition the defender, 40, has won five times during a 25-season career in which he has lifted 26 trophies in the Rossoneri shirt.

The game at Fiorentina was the end of an era for coach Carlo Ancelotti too as he announced his departure following a successful eight-year spell.

"I would like to bring one player with me to my new team," the 49-year-old joked after the game. "Unfortunately I don't think I will manage to let him change his plans about retirement. Guess who? Yes, Maldini obviously."

Meanwhile Figo, who received a standing ovation from the San Siro fans when replaced by Davide Santon after 44 minutes of Inter's 4-3 win over Atalanta, retired after winning four consecutive Scudetti with the Nerazzurri.

"It was an unforgettable day," the former Portuguese international, who won 127 caps, said. "It was good to end my career this way. Everything was perfect and it was great to receive the armband from captain Javier Zanetti today.

"I will always be very close to Inter because they gave me so much in the last four years," he added. "I did not think I'd stay so long but the love I received here from my first day was amazing."

The 36-year-old has also played for Sporting Lisbon, Barcelona and Real Madrid during his career, was the Ballon d'Or winner in 2000, FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001 and Portuguese Footballer of the Year every year from 1995 to 2000. Figo also won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup with Barcelona and UEFA Champions League with Madrid.

Nedved, meanwhile, received hugs from all his team-mates when he was replaced with six minutes to play and took a lap of honour around the Stadio Olimpico after the 2-0 win over former club Lazio, his 327th and last game in the Bianconeri shirt.

"It was a tough day for me, but also wonderful," said the midfielder, capped 91 times by the Czech Republic. "I felt the love of everybody here today. It means we have done great things together."

The 36-year-old, who won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup with Lazio in 1999 and the Scudetto the following season, joined Juventus for €41m in 2001. He has added two more Serie A titles there as well as countless personal honours, included the Ballon d'Or in 2003.

"I did not expect such a celebration for my last game here," he added.

Source: UEFA

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