A Clash of Creeds In European Cup

ATHENS -- Soccer evangelist Johan Cruyff faces his greatest crusading challenge Wednesday, preaching the gospel of attacking football to the unbelievers of Milan in the European Cup final. Rarely in soccer history has a match so embodied the two opposing creeds of how the game should be played as the final between Cruyff's swashbuckling Barcelona and the defenders of AC Milan. Cruyff liberates his players with the simple message -- go forth and multiply the goals. Milan's Fabio Capello shackles them by forbidding seven of his men to cross the halfway line. On the face of it the Catalans have everything going for them. A magnificent late run of 28 points from 15 matches landed them their fourth successive Spanish title on Saturday. Temperamental Bulgarian striker Hristo Stoichkov, no more eloquent than a Trappist monk when off form, is gushing with goals at the moment and his enigmatic Brazilian partner Romario is blossoming again after a bleak spell. Even if the subtle persuasive powers of their intricate soccer should fail, Barcelona can still call in the heavy artillery to settle the argument once and for all. Dutchman Ronald Koeman, a defender whose instincts incline him to execute rather than take prisoners, is Barcelona's top scorer in the European Cup this season with eight goals, nearly all from his terrifying cannon-ball free kicks. The thought that Barcelona has bagged 45 goals in its last 15 league games, compared with Milan's total of 36 in its entire 34-game season, would be enough to make any team nervous. Milan's buttress is also undeniably weakened by the suspensions of central defensive pair Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta. But beating Capello's Milan is anything but a formality. Marseille managed it last year when Basile Boli snapped up his team's one real chance of the final, but the French club is the only side to have beaten Milan in Europe in the past six years. Ironically, the Milan side that won the European Cup under Arrigo Sacchi in 1989 and 1990 used to be spoken of in the same awed admiration as Cruyff's Barcelona. Capello, to be fair, does not have the same majestic talents at his disposal, but nor does he have Sacchi's love of flair and style. The policy that sends defensive midfielders Marcel Desailly and Demetrio Albertini on to the pitch with instructions to stay within their own half is not pretty but it is effective. Milan conceded just 15 league goals last season as it picked up a third successive title and has let in only four in 21 games in the last two years of the European Cup. And Barcelona beware. Only two weeks ago, adventurous Parma and stolid Arsenal met in the Cup Winners' Cup final. The bad guys won 1-0.