European Football: Roma face Juve of old

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The Independent Online
JUVENTUS, the Italian league leaders, host AS Roma today in a match which in the early 1980s was a regular championship decider. Then, the game featured the French genius Michel Platini lining up against the Brazilian wizard Falcao.

Juventus won the championship in 1981, 1982 and 1984 while Roma pipped them in 1983. Times have changed for Roma at least. Today a still-dominant Juve come into the game 12 points clear of seventh-placed Roma.

While results have gone Juventus' way since their 1-0 loss at Internazionale in early January, little has gone right for the Rome side. A 4-3 win over Empoli last Sunday was Roma's first since 7 December. It ended a disappointing run which saw them lose to Inter at the San Siro and to Udinese in the league as well as being eliminated from the Italian Cup by city rivals Lazio.

In the same period, Juventus have bounced back from defeat at Inter to go top of Serie A with successive league wins against Vicenza, Bologna and Atalanta Bergamo in a month in which they also knocked Fiorentina out of the Italian Cup.

But despite their apparent gulf in recent form, Roma's 21-year-old striker Francesco Totti believes his side can pick up at least a point in Turin.

"I know that the title was always at stake when the teams met before and 12 points is a big gap," said Totti, who won warm praise from the manager, Zdenek Zemen, this week. "Certainly Juve are in great form at the moment but we're not beaten before we even start," said Totti.

Totti's confidence may also be boosted by memories of a 0-0 draw when the two sides met at the Olympic stadium in Rome on the second day of the season in a game in which many commentators considered Roma unlucky.

Totti will undergo a late fitness test on a back injury. If absent, he will be replaced by Carmine Gautieri alongside Brazilian Paulo Sergio and Argentina's Abel Balbo, scorer of a hat-trick against Empoli last week. In defence, Roma are at full strength with the Brazilians Aldair and Cafu partnered by the Frenchman Vincent Candela and Fabio Petruzzi.

The Juventus coach, Marcelo Lippi, has a surfeit of choice in midfield when he comes to name his side.

With Frenchman Didiers Deschamps fully-recovered after a long absence through injury and in-form Dutchman Edgar Davids and Zinedine Zidane sure to be picked, Lippi has to choose between Angelo Di Livio and Antonio Conte for the fourth midfield berth.

Davids, who has become a regular since joining Juventus from Milan in December, is confident the league leaders will continue to thrive. "Roma have good players, but Juventus at home are unbeatable," he said.

In defence, Mark Iuliano steps in for the injured Ciro Ferrara, almost certain to miss the rest of the season after breaking his left leg in two places during last week's 2-0 win at Lecce.

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