A test for Stuttgart

European football
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The Independent Online
In today's top-of-the-table clash in Germany, second-placed VfB Stuttgart have their chances of returning to the top of the Bundesliga limited by the likely absence of a large number of their first team.

The star striker Fredi Bobic and defender Thomas Schneider are almost certain to be out of the game, the Dutch libero Frank Verlaat is also struggling with a muscle strain and it is not clear whether their Croat midfielder Zvonimir Soldo will be able to return from Zagreb in time following the death of his father.

By contrast, Bayern, who have a two-point lead over Stuttgart with two games remaining before the winter break, are without just one first-choice player, their international playmaker Mehmet Scholl, who will be replaced by the in-form Mario Basler.

Despite Stuttgart's superb form this season, their coach Joachim Loew is playing down his team's chances: "Bayern have been top class for generations. They are always strong when they have their backs to the wall."

In the most open Italian title race for more than a decade, the early pace-setters, Internazionale, were spared blushes by their French striker Youri Djorkaeff, who struck a last-minute penalty to clinch a 2-2 draw with lowly Cagliari yesterday, but the Milan side wasted a great chance to return to the top Serie A.

However, the team were said to be buoyant following news from the United States about their Nigerian forward Nwankwo Kanu, who will know within four months if he has any chance of playing professional football again following heart surgery.

Kanu, who led the Nigerian team to the Olympic title at Atlanta this year, underwent surgery to correct a weak aortic valve last Monday. Internazionale's club doctor said the operation was successful "and Nwankwo's life has been definitely saved".

AS Roma and Fiorentina, two of the many pretenders to the Italian throne, meet in the match of the day at the Olympic Stadium in Rome tonight. Roma come into the game in seventh place, while Fiorentina are one point behind their opponents in a table which sees the top 14 sides separated by only eight points.

Both sides will be close to full strength. Swede Jonas Thern returns to Roma's midfield and Fiorentina again look to their all-foreign attack of the Brazilian Oliveira, the Argentine Gabriel Batistuta and the Portuguese playmaker Rui Costa.

While allegations of bribery and match-rigging continue to swirl in Portugal, 66 per cent of the population no longer believe in the credibility of football results, according to an opinion poll published yesterday.

Only 18 per cent of the 500 people surveyed said they still trusted the league's results while another 15 per cent were undecided in the Euroteste poll for the daily Diario de Noticias.

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