Bruised Inter prepare for Roma title battle

February 25, 2008

MILAN, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Serie A leaders Inter Milan must count their walking wounded ahead of Wednesday's big clash with second-placed AS Roma (1930 GMT).

Inter's lead was reduced to nine points on Sunday after the champions salvaged a 1-1 draw at Sampdoria and Roma beat Fiorentina 1-0.

The unbeaten champions were without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Genoa and the Swede is again doubtful for the top-of-the-table clash because of a knee problem.

Fellow frontman Julio Cruz and midfielder Dejan Stankovic should recover from minor injuries but they will miss the experience of centre back Ivan Cordoba, who is out with knee ligament damage and could miss the rest of the season.

Cordoba suffered the injury in last Tuesday's 2-0 Champions League defeat at Liverpool, which has affected Inter's confidence.

Roma coach Luciano Spalletti has ratcheted up the pressure on Inter and his own players by stating the importance of Wednesday's match.

"The San Siro game will determine everything. It will be a fundamental match," Spalletti told reporters, aware his side lost 4-1 at home to Inter in September.

The last time Inter lost in the league was April 16 last year when Roma pulled off a 3-1 win at the San Siro. A repeat victory and a gap of only six points would suddenly make the title race much more interesting.

Roma's Brazilian defender Cicinho will miss the match after being sent off for two bookings late on in the Fiorentina game, having earlier netted the winner.

Another big clash takes place on Tuesday when third-placed Juventus face Torino in the Turin derby (1930).

Juve, four points adrift of Roma, were furious with the referee for awarding a stoppage time penalty and ignoring their spotkick appeals in Saturday's 2-1 loss at lowly Reggina.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon missed the trip to Reggina but is fit for the derby while Cristiano Zanetti is suspended and strikers David Trezeguet and Vincenzo Iaquinta are doubts.

AC Milan, who moved above Fiorentina into fourth with Sunday's last-gasp 2-1 win over Palermo, travel to Catania on Wednesday without playmaker Kaka.

The Brazilian came off at halftime against Palermo with a recurrence of a knee problem and is likely to be rested in a bid to recover for the Champions League last-16, second leg at home to Arsenal next week, with the score at 0-0.

Fiorentina host Livorno on Wednesday with Adrian Mutu facing several weeks out after picking up a knock against Roma.