Football: Milan woes ahead of must-win Juve Cup final

AC Milan's defender Philippe Mexes (left) struggles for the ball in the Serie A football match in Milan, Italy, on May 14, 2016.
AC Milan's defender Philippe Mexes (left) struggles for the ball in the Serie A football match in Milan, Italy, on May 14, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

MILAN (AFP) - Uncertainty over the future of AC Milan hovers over the stricken Italian giants as they look to avoid the ignominy of a season without European football by wresting the Italian Cup from Juventus on Saturday.

"It would be a huge victory for the team but also in terms of sealing direct entry to the Europa League," club owner and president Silvio Berlusconi told the players at their training ground earlier this week.

Milan, the seven-time European champions, are now a pale shadow of the club that brought Berlusconi no fewer than five Champions League titles between 1989 and 2007.

Now increasingly frustrated at Milan's slow decline, he has put the club up for sale, recently signing exclusive negotiating rights with a Chinese consortium.

The potential new owners, as much as Berlusconi, will have a keen eye on Saturday's final at Rome's Stadio Olimpico, where league champions Juventus could become the first Italian club to win successive league and Cup doubles.

The winner will earn direct entry to the Europa League, meaning if Juventus triumph, the qualifying spot for Europe's second-tier competition goes to Serie A's sixth place finisher.

On the final day of the season, Milan were thumped 3-1 at home by Roma, while Sassuolo stunned 10-man Inter Milan 3-1 to finish four points ahead of the Rossoneri in sixth.

Unsurprisingly, town officials have set up large screens in the Tuscan town for thousands of fans to witness their possible and historic entry into European football.

Although a season without the revenues from the lucrative Champions League can be crippling, Milan's failure to qualify for Europe's second-tier club event would leave a bigger stain on their reputation.

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba said the magic of a Cup final could spring a surprise.

"We can't go there thinking we're favourites. We have to remain humble, because it's not always the strongest that wins," said the Frenchman.