European Football: Sousa adds lost vision

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The Independent Online
ITALIAN title contenders Inter Milan, complete with their new Portuguese signing Paulo Sousa, have faced a week of questions after losing top spot to Juventus. Chief among these is whether they can return to winning ways with their Brazilian double world footballer of the year Ronaldo suffering a slump in form.

Inter go into today's game against Brescia on 37 points, just one behind Juventus with surprise package Udinese three points behind them in third, following an unimpressive 1-1 draw away to Empoli last week followed a surprise 1-0 home defeat by Bari two weeks ago. January also saw Inter humiliated 5-1 on aggregate in an Italian Cup quarter-final by their city rivals AC Milan.

Adding to the problems in midweek was some harsh criticism of Ronaldo from the club owner Massimo Moratti. The striker has not scored since 6 December and reports last week that his compatriot Roberto Carlos was predicting Ronaldo's swift return to Spanish football suggest that he has not entirely settled in at the club, which he joined for a world record pounds 17.5 million in the close season.

Inter underlined their desire to get back on track path with the pounds 4.7m midweek acquisition of Sousa, the Portuguese playmaker who won back-to- back European Cup winner's medals first with Juventus and, last year, the German side Borussia Dortmund. The coach Gigi Simoni wants to throw the experienced Sousa into the fray immediately against Brescia but, with the Bundesliga having stopped for its winter break on 20 December, there are doubts over his match fitness.

"He himself is the first to admit that he is a little bit short of perfect fitness," said Simoni lastweek. "However, with Sousa in the side the quality of our game can improve a lot. He's the sort of player who speeds up your attacking, the sort of player who can hit the first-time through ball without stopping to think."

Sousa, who will be expected to improve the quality of service for Ronaldo, may replace the Brazilian Ze Elias alongside the Argentine Diego Simeone, the Dutchman Aron Winter and Francesco Moriero in midfield. In attack, Ronaldo will be partnered by Marco Branca, since the Frenchman Youri Djorkaeff is out through injury.

Relegation battlers Brescia come into the game in 12th place and in good form following wins against Napoli and Parma in their last two outings. They will be led by the striker Dario Hubner, on the 11-goal mark, while the Israeli midfielder Tal Banin and the Polish defender Marek Kozminski supply real quality and experience.