Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Midweek Serie A & Coppa Italia Preview

AC Milan can continue their recent mini-revival with a win at Atalanta on Wednesday in the first of their three games in hand in Serie A.

Substitute Alberto Gilardino's stoppage time winner gave Milan a 1-0 victory at Udinese on Sunday and moved the European champions up to ninth place.

The win was their second in a row following a 5-2 triumph over Napoli the weekend before last when new Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato inspired the team to their first home league victory this term.

The original Atalanta match in November was abandoned early on after home fans tried to smash a perimeter fence in protest at the shooting dead of a Lazio supporter by police earlier that day.

Security will be high for the rearranged game after three Catania fans were injured when they were stabbed before their match with Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.

Zeljko Kalac is set to remain in goal with Dida struggling with injury but Gilardino's strike may not be enough for him to break up the Brazilian front three of Kaka, Pato and Ronaldo.

Paolo Maldini is doubtful after missing the Udinese game with flu.

The first legs of the Coppa Italia quarter-finals also take place this week with the standout tie between bitter rivals Inter and Juventus.

Cup matches rarely generate much interest in Italy until the final, but that will change on Wednesday with the mouth-watering showdown at the San Siro.

Both sides proved in the previous round that they were taking this competition seriously, for different reasons.

Juventus are not playing in Europe this season and know full well they likely do not have the ability to claim the Serie A title, hence this is the only piece of silverware they can win this season.

Inter, on the other hand, have such a formidable squad that when their stand-by players get a rare start in the Coppa they give their all to try to prove they're worthy of a starting berth in the league.

These differing motivations resulted in Inter's second string trouncing Reggina 7-1 on aggregate in the previous round, while Juve overturned a 2-1 first leg deficit against Empoli to win a thrilling return 5-3 and book their meeting with the champions and league leaders.

Inter will probably start the contest as favourites, but Juventus will most likely field the more experienced and tested outfit.

Even so, Juve coach Claudio Ranieri is not expecting his side to have an easy ride. "We'll give it our all, we've got to have a go. In the league we did really well," he said.

"We were losing and then equalised through (Mauro) Camoranesi. We want to progress to the next round and we will go for it."

Juve held Inter to a 1-1 draw in the pair's Serie A meeting in Turin with Camoranesi cancelling out Julio Cruz's opener. But that match should have little bearing on this one with Inter expected to field a much-changed line-up.

In other ties, Roma travel to Sampdoria but will have to do without their travelling army of followers as they have been barred from the stadium in Genoa.

High-flying Udinese tackle Catania, while struggling Lazio will try to salvage something from their poor season as they host Fiorentina on Thursday.

Serie A (Week 12):
Wednesday January 23
Atalanta v Milan (1930, UK Time)

Coppa Italia (QF, 1st Leg):
Wednesday January 23
Udinese v Catania (1400)
Sampdoria v Roma (1730)
Inter v Juventus (2000)
Thursday January 24
Lazio v Fiorentina (2000)

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