Saturday, 28 April 2007

Derby della Capitale: Roma v Lazio

Francesco Totti is aiming to set a record for most appearances in the Rome derby this weekend, provided he recovers in time from a persistent back problem.

The Roma captain has played 22 times against arch-rivals Lazio - the same number as former Giallorossi goalkeeper Guido Masetti, part of the club's Scudetto-winning team of 1942. Totti can claim the record outright if he features in Sunday's fixture but his fitness remains in doubt. Although the leading scorer in Serie A with 21 goals, Totti has been struggling with sciatica and had to miss last weekend's defeat at Atalanta.

With or without Totti, Roma have particular reason to want the win given three points against Lazio would assure them of second place and direct entry to next term's Champions League. Lazio, though, have their own requirements as they seek to fulfil their ambition of reaching the Champions League qualifiers. Delio Rossi's men sit a point above AC Milan and seven clear of fifth-placed Empoli.

Lazio won 3-0 when these clubs met in December and Roma defender Christian Panucci has admitted that Luciano Spalletti's side took their rivals too lightly that day. However, with the chance to "cement second place", he promises it will be different this time. "In December we lost 3-0 against Lazio because we felt complacent and thought we would beat them easily, but they performed with more anger and intensity. This time everything will be different," he said.

Lazio have taken only two points from their last three outings and coach Rossi has warned his players to "have the right attitude". He explained: "In matches like this, players must have a warm heart and cold blood." Rossi's own blood got rather heated when Lazio beat Roma four months ago – he was so excited he went and jumped in a fountain. It remains to be seen how he would celebrate another success, but he said: "If we beat Roma our fans will be happy, and we would move closer to our target."

The Biancocelesti last ventured into the Champions League in 2003/04, when they finished bottom of their group. President Claudio Lotito is hopeful victory over their Eternal City neighbours can serve as a stepping stone back on to the European stage. "I hope this derby will be a fantastic show and that my team will finally get what they deserve - the Champions League," said Lotito. Roma and the potentially record-breaking Totti will have other ideas.

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