Ancelotti singles out Pirlo as match-winner

September 19, 2007

MILAN, Sept 19 (Reuters) - AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti believes Kaka will be named European player of the year but that team mate Andrea Pirlo will run the Brazilian close.

The duo were instrumental in Milan starting the defence of their Champions League title with a fluent 2-1 win over Benfica in Group D on Tuesday.

Pirlo scored an early free kick and then set up Filippo Inzaghi for the second after Kaka had run half the length of the field with the ball.

'For me it is not important who wins but I believe Kaka has an advantage because of the goals he scored in last season's Champions League,' Ancelotti told a news conference.

'But Pirlo very much deserves to be a candidate. I do not see many midfielders around at his level. We are aiming for a double, first and second,' he joked.

Kaka looks odds-on to win the European prize later this year, known as the Ballon d'Or or golden ball, while he also looks well placed for FIFA's World Player of the Year gong.

The Brazilian was a major factor in Milan winning their seventh European Cup last May and is still favourite for the awards despite missing Brazil's victorious Copa America campaign in July in order to rest.

Italy's World-Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro took both the European and World awards last year.

Unsung hero Pirlo was almost as influential as Cannavaro in Italy's triumph in Germany and continued his good form throughout last season, combining goals with assists and effective defensive play.