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Thursday, January 31, 2008
Serie A: Improving Milan set sights on Fiorentina

MILAN, Jan 31 (Reuters) - AC Milan's ascent towards a Champions League qualifying spot reaches a crucial point this weekend when they visit fourth-placed Fiorentina.

The European champions endured a wretched first half of the season but are now up to sixth following their fourth league win in five matches since the midseason break.

Alberto Gilardino's header gave Milan a 1-0 win at Reggina on Wednesday in their penultimate game in hand, which was postponed in December when they won the Club World Cup in Japan.

Now Milan can cut the gap with Fiorentina to four points with a victory on Sunday (1930 GMT), knowing they have another game in hand at home to Livorno on Feb. 13.

'I must say that since the break we have been doing really well, but we're not yet in top shape. We will get there soon,' Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti told reporters.

Fiorentina, slightly fortunate to gain points in recent weeks, surprisingly lost 2-1 at home to Lazio on Wednesday to bow out of the Italian Cup quarter-finals. They may feel now is not the best time to meet a resurgent Milan.

Leaders Inter Milan, five ahead of second-placed AS Roma and 20 clear of Milan, host struggling Empoli on Sunday (1400) on the back on Wednesday's thrilling 3-2 Italian Cup quarter-final win at rivals Juventus.

Two goals from 17-year-old youth team striker Mario Balotelli grabbed the headlines but he is highly unlikely to feature in the league anytime soon with boss Roberto Mancini careful to protect his youngsters.

Inter failed to win for the first time in nine Serie A games when they drew 0-0 at Udinese last Sunday after having winger Cesar sent off.

His absence against Empoli will be mitigated by their midfield injury problems steadily improving.

Roma visit relegation-threatened Siena (1400) while struggling city rivals Lazio hope to be buoyed by their qualification for the Italian Cup semi-finals when they host Sampdoria.

Fifth-placed Udinese travel to mid-table Napoli on Saturday (1930) and Juventus, in third, host Cagliari on Sunday with new signing Mohamed Sissoko possibly available after Mali went out of the African Nations Cup.

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