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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Maldini's final mission
Paolo Maldini celebrates Roberto Baggio's goal against Czechoslovakia at Italia 90
Maldini was 21 when he played in his first World Cup

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Paolo Maldini was a 14-year-old member of AC Milan's youth side when his father, Cesare, helped to guide Italy to World Cup glory in 1982.

But only two years later the young defender was already in Milan's senior side and on the path to greatness.

Twenty years after Cesare Maldini was assistant coach to Enzo Bearzot for the Azzurri's triumph in Spain, his son hopes he, too, will get his hands on the greatest prize of all.

And victory in his fourth World Cup campaign would be a fitting finale for the most experienced and successful defender in European football.

Open Quote
This could be the right moment to win something with the national team
Close Quote
Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini's acumen and leadership qualities have been a hallmark of AC Milan sides for the past 16 seasons and the national side for the past 13.

Nominally a left back, he has also excelled as one of three centre backs in the favoured formation adopted by Italy.

Maldini has won a record 119 caps for his country and enjoyed overwhelming success in the red-and-black jersey of Milan, which he has donned on more than 550 occasions.

The first of six Serie A championship medals arrived in 1988, as the celebrated side featuring Dutch trio Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten took Italy by storm.

A year later came the first of three European Cup triumphs, the third in 1994 securing a remarkable double alongside another domestic title.

AC Milan defender Paolo Maldini
Maldini is captain of his club and country

But later that summer Maldini was a picture of dejection as Italy lost the World Cup final on penalties to Brazil in front of 94,000 fans in Los Angeles' Rose Bowl.

Four years earlier he had suffered the same fate at the semi final stage as the host nation bowed out to Argentina.

And the Maldini family were plunged into despair again in 1998 as Cesare, Italy's coach for the past two years, saw his reign end with a quarter-final defeat to the eventual champions.

The team's defensive tactics were criticised, and there was yet more disappointment at Euro 2000 as Paolo and his comrades lost out to David Trezeguet's golden goal.

Bulging CV

Little wonder, then, that Maldini feels there is still something missing from a glittering career as he prepares for one last shot at glory in Korea and Japan.

"We have gone close many times," he said. "This could be the right moment to win something with the national team."

Dino Zoff, the man Maldini passed as Italy's most capped player, finally lifted the World Cup at the age of 40 on his last attempt.

Maldini will continue to play for Milan for at least the next two years, but has confirmed he will retire from international football after the World Cup.

He will be 34 on June 26, the date of the second semi-final.

Four days later at Yokohama's International Stadium, the gap in a bulging CV may finally be filled.

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