Roma relishing Italian Cup tie against Juventus

January 23, 2006

ROME, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Few sides relish a game against Serie A leaders Juventus but AS Roma will travel to Turin full of confidence for the first leg of their Italian Cup quarter-final on Thursday (kickoff 2000 GMT).

Beaten 4-1 by Juve in the league in November, Roma have shaken off their erratic early-season form to rack up five consecutive Serie A wins and close to within seven points of fourth-placed Fiorentina.

A couple of years ago, the Cup would have been a minor irritant for Roma, who were Italian champions in 2001, but the defection of their former coach Fabio Capello north to take up the reins at Juve led to results nosediving last season.

Their fans view any game against Capello's Juve almost like a 'grudge' match and are expected to be out in force for Thursday's tie.

The difficulty of the game means Roma cannot risk fielding a second-string side as they did against third-division Napoli in the last round.

It might even provide an opportunity for a rare Cup appearance by Francesco Totti, who missed the 4-1 win over Udinese at the weekend with an ankle injury.

Juve's reserve team is much stronger than Roma's. Capello is expected to rest first-choice strikers David Trezeguet and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, starting Alessandro Del Piero up front alongside Marcelo Zalayeta

Del Piero is in formidable form and hit a hat-trick in Juve's last Cup fixture, a 4-1 demolition of Fiorentina, to become the club's all-time top scorer.

In the other matches, Cup holders Inter Milan take on the 2004 winners Lazio in Rome (Tuesday, 2000).

Lazio have stuttered recently in Serie A, but remain unbeaten at the Olympic Stadium this season.

Inter beat Palermo 3-0 on Saturday and appear to have rediscovered the form they showed going into the winter break.

In the remaining two quarter-finals, both on Wednesday, AC Milan host Palermo (2000) and Udinese play Sampdoria (1700).

Udinese coach Serse Cosmi and Palermo coach Luigi Del Neri both risk losing their jobs after poor runs in the league. The Cup, often a sideshow to the main event of Serie A, could prove decisive to either.