Sunday 26 February 2017

Milito brothers prepare for latest staging of family feud

Pete Jenson

Loving brothers off the pitch, but more like Cain and Abel on it, Diego and Gabi Milito have been kicking lumps out of each other at every given opportunity since they began their professional careers for rival teams in Buenos Aires eight years ago. Tonight the family war continues with a place in the European Cup final at stake.

Mrs Mirta Milito knows that one of her boys will be contesting the final on May 22, she just does not know which one. She is also more than aware of the fierce rivalry that takes over when the two Argentines meet. She once had to leave the stadium as her sons were held apart by a referee while playing for local rivals Independiente and Racing in Argentina.

The two brothers are separated by a year with the older Diego choosing centre-forward as his trade and sibling Gabi becoming a central defender. Diego joined Racing -- the club his cousins played for and his family supported -- but Gabi broke with that tradition and became captain of Independiente -- Racing's sworn enemy.

desperate

In that first derby between the two, Diego was sent off after just 15 minutes and his side lost the game 4-1. In the second game, the big striker was desperate to get his own back and when Gabi clattered into Diego's strike partner Manuel Torres, he pleaded with the referee to send his brother off.

Diego recalls: "It is true we ended up fighting. The referee had to come between us, but he did so almost laughing because we were saying pretty terrible things about each other. It was an important game and we were acting like children playing in the yard."

The game ended 1-1 and remains the only game in which Diego has ever taken anything from his younger brother on the pitch. Since those meetings in Argentina back in 2002 the two have played twice with Gabi's Barcelona beating Diego's Zaragoza.

In the 2007-08 season Barca beat Zaragoza 4-1 at the Nou Camp and 2-1 in La Romareda. In both games Diego failed to score against Gabi. In one of the meetings Diego won a spot-kick. But brother Gabi spent so long advising goalkeeper Victor Valdes where his brother would put the penalty that Diego was put off and blazed wide. He has only ever netted once when the two have met, but tonight, with Gabi marking him as Carles Puyol is suspended, Diego could take the ultimate revenge by getting to the Champions League final at Gabi's expense.

"When the whistle blows our relationship does not exist," Gabi said. "It is a massive game for both of us and we are both desperate to win it. Our relationship is not going to change for one game, but tonight he will be just another rival. My brother gets annoyed very easily and is very easy to wind up."

But despite playing for Champions League semi-finalists, they are in danger of being ignored by Argentina coach Diego Maradona for the World Cup.

The unfashionable pair have been discarded by lesser football brains than Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. When Diego slipped away from relegated Zaragoza there were few takers. He was picked up by Serie A's Genoa before Inter took a chance on him replacing Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The decision has paid off with 20 goals this season.

Gabi had a dream move to Real Madrid shattered when they discovered a knee problem they were convinced would end his career -- something he reminded Real's sporting director Jorge Valdano of recently in the tunnel after El Clasico. He proved the Madrid doctors wrong although two years ago in a Champions League semi-final against Manchester United he did suffer a serious knee injury that ruled him out until the turn of this year.

After so long in the shadows both will be under the spotlight tonight. They have now found their place in European football and a seat at the top table awaits tonight's victor. "Whoever gets through will be congratulated by the other," said Gabi. "But for both of us there is so much at stake -- reaching the Champions League final would be the pinnacle of our careers." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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