Football: Lombardo out for a month as Italy prepare for Russia

World Cup Play-Offs
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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace could be without Attilio Lombardo for up to a month after he picked up a thigh muscle injury in training with Italy yesterday.

The 31-year-old former Juventus player will definitely miss the second leg of his country's World Cup qualifying play-off against Russia in Naples this evening after sustaining the injury trying to back-heel the ball.

Lombardo, keen to impress the Italy coach Cesare Maldini, tried an elegant flick at the San Paolo stadium - and sprained the muscles in his right thigh.

Maldini said: "We're all disappointed for Lombardo, but he was trying to do something which perhaps wasn't really him."

The Chelsea striker, Gianfranco Zola, will be kept guessing over whether he will return to Maldini's starting line-up after he made way for Fabrizio Ravanelli in the first leg, which ended in a 1-1 draw in Moscow on October 29.

It is likely to be a straight choice between Zola and the former Middlesbrough striker to accompany Pierluigi Casiraghi in attack, with Maldini saying: "The difference would only be in having that extra bit of power (with Ravanelli), while Zola is that bit more inventive."

Italy would reach the finals in France next year with a goalless draw thanks to their away goal scored by the now-injured Christian Vieri in Moscow.

Maldini, however, has come under increasing pressure to produce a performance of flair that will send Italy, who have only failed to qualify for the finals once before, in 1958, to the World Cup with some style. As if to demonstrate how important Maldini's task is to Italians, around 8,000 of them turned up at the San Paolo stadium in Naples to watch yesterday's final training session before the match.

The excitement of the occasion was too much for one fan, who ran on to the pitch and tackled a bewildered Roberto Di Matteo before being dragged away by stewards.

The Chelsea midfielder Di Matteo was unperturbed and is likely to keep his place in the team after an impressive performance in Moscow.

Supporters in Naples have a reputation for being among the most fanatical in Italy - especially when the Azzurri are in town. Tickets for the game sold out within three hours and there is expected to be a capacity 73,000- strong crowd.

The Italians usually respond to the warmth of the Neapolitan support. They have lost just three of their 20 matches played in the city.

"With a 0-0 draw we're on the train to France," said Maldini. He added: "I understand the other argument, and I respect it, but I think and reason with my head.

"What happens next for me is of little interest to me - what I want is to stay in good health and to enjoy my family, while all the time hoping to win matches. And that's all. Just as it's always been."

The former Everton winger Andrei Kanchelskis is set to miss out for Russia because of an injury picked up in the first leg.

But Maldini added: "From what I understand, they too are going to play to score goals, and in place of Kanchelskis they might play someone who has scored a few more goals than him - Igor Simutenkov."