Friday, 9 March 2007

Derby della Madonnina

Inter may be dominating the Serie A title race but Sunday's derby with AC Milan has taken on a new complexion following the clubs' contrasting fortunes in the UEFA Champions League this week.

The Nerazzurri remain odds-on favourites to clinch a 15th Scudetto having established a 16-point cushion over second-placed Roma. They are a massive 30 points clear of neighbours Milan, yet the mood in the two camps completely changed in the space of 24 hours when Inter's elimination at the hands Valencia on Tuesday was followed by the Rossoneri's extra-time win over Celtic.

Despite Inter's record-breaking form in domestic competition, they failed to overcome a resolute Valencia side, crashing out on away goals. However, coach Roberto Mancini is refusing to be drawn into a debate about the strength of his team, saying: "This elimination will not ruin a season that remains extraordinary."

Milan, meanwhile, started their campaign with an eight-point deduction, but after a difficult first half of the season finally seem on the right track. They have won eight of their last ten Serie A games and are just three points off fourth place and a Champions League berth. After Kaka's late goal sealed a slender victory against Celtic, coach Carlo Ancelotti said: "Milan can challenge anyone out there, no exceptions."

The derby will have extra spice as Ancelotti is expected to field Ronaldo against his former club. The Brazilian striker was a popular figure among Inter fans before he moved to Spain and Real Madrid, but his decision to return to Italy in the colours of Milan has angered many. Nerazzurri President Massimo Moratti described the transfer as "in bad taste", though Ronaldo insists the pair continue to enjoy a good relationship.

"I understand his criticism," Ronaldo said. "He had to say those things about my transfer - it was inevitable. In private, however, it is different and I have a deep affection for him." The Derby della Madonnina will be Ronaldo's first match against Inter since leaving in 2002. Should he score the winner for Milan, the week would turn from bad to worse for the Inter supporters.

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