Tuesday, 15 April 2008

[Coppa Italia] Semi-final Preview

Lazio head into Wednesday's Coppa Italia semi-final against Inter in the middle of a season to forget for the club.

After being held at home to a 1-1 draw by Siena, they are only 12th in Serie A with five games left to play.

It is a far cry from last year, when they finished in a magnificent third position and qualified for the UEFA Champions League.

They were promptly eliminated from Europe's elite competition and failed to quality for the UEFA Cup, while results at home were little better.

The Coppa Italia would provide the Biancoceleste a chance to salvage a disappointing season so far.

But Delio Rossi's men face the toughest challenge as they take on Serie A leaders Inter. "This year we have suffered from everything," said Rossi. "It has been a difficult year but we can still make things better.

"We will face a motivated Inter, who in my opinion are the strongest team in the world."

However, Lazio can take heart from one thing - in a strange twist to their season so far they have performed against the big teams, beating city neighbours Roma and drawing with Inter and AC Milan in the league.

It is against the smaller clubs that they have struggled, so a meeting with Inter might be a blessing in disguise.

Lazio travel to the San Siro for the first-leg encounter on Wednesday with the good news that goalkeeper Marco Ballotta has recovered from injury. Ballotta missed the draw against Siena - Lazio's fourth game without a win.

Attacking trio Rolando Bianchi, Tommaso Rocchi and Goran Pandev are all set to start for Lazio.

Inter go into the tie as favourites due to their impressive form in Serie A, where they have lost just twice this campaign and lead the league by a four-point margin over Roma.

The Scudetto remain Inter's top priority but the Coppa Italia has brought much such success to the Nerazzurri in recent years as they have won it twice in the last three seasons.

Holders Roma should face an easier task as they take on Sicilian minnows Catania earlier on Wednesday at the Stadio Olimpico.

Catania, who have yet to win on the road this campaign in Italy's top flight, made it to the last four of the Coppa Italia for the first time in their history and will go into the encounter in the Eternal City with nothing to lose, something which worries Roma coach Luciano Spalletti.

"Even if they are not in a great position in the standings, Catania play good football," admitted Spalletti.

"It's going to be a difficult game but I expect my team to show good effort and a desire to progress to the final, considering that the final game will be played in Rome."

The second leg encounters will both be played on May 7 while the final will take place on May 24.

There is also one reschduled match from Serie A taking place on Wednesday as Juventus welcome Parma to Turin. The Week 31 match was postponed on March 30 following the accidental death of a Parma supporter ahead of the kick-off.

Juventus go into the game looking to consolidate their position in the top three and qualify for the Champions League next season.

But it is also an important game for the visitors, who were managed by Juve coach Claudio Ranieri last season, as they try to battle against relegation.

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