Football / European round-up: Milan on the brink

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

MILAN could be celebrating their third successive Serie A title after their match at Napoli today. They hold a nine-point lead with six games to play, and victory could see the end of the race.

Milan are in form, with victories over Juventus, Sampdoria and Internazionale in their last three league games. Their coach, Fabio Capello, will assess the condition of the nine players involved in midweek internationals with Italy, France and Romania, before picking his side.

Fitness permitting, Capello will field a foreign trio of the Montenegrin Dejan Savicevic and the French pair, Jean-Pierre Papin and Marcel Desailly, who both played in France's 3-1 victory over Chile in Lyon on Tuesday.

The unsettled Papin, who has confirmed his intention of leaving Milan at the end of the season, probably for a French club, regains his place at the expense of the injured Croat Zvonimir Boban.

Napoli, trounced 3-0 by Lazio last Sunday, will play their two foreigners, the Swede Jonas Thern, and the Uruguayan Daniel Fonseca.

David Platt remains doubtful for Sampdoria's home game against a Foggia side missing their injured first-choice goalkeeper, Francesco Mancini, and the suspended defender Nicola Caini.

Hamburg and Bayern Munich, once the duopolists of German football, meet today in a match that for the first time in years will have a direct bearing on the championship aspirations of both sides.

Between 1979 and 1987, only one team broke Munich and Hamburg's stranglehold on the Bundesliga title, Stuttgart in 1984. With both clubs also prominent in European competition, meetings between the northern and southern rivals was always one of the highlights of the season.

With Hamburg's fall from grace in recent seasons, though, the fixture lost much of its importance. But a Hamburg renaissance under their new coach, Benno Mohlmann, has lifted them to third in the table, two points behind Bayern.

Bayern were far from impressive in a goalless draw at home to Borussia Dortmund last week, and Franz Beckenbauer, who played for both clubs and is now Bayern's acting coach, wants to see more dynamism from the club who have won the Bundesliga a record 12 times.

There is enormous respect between the two coaches and Beckenbauer is quick to praise Mohlmann. 'Something has happened since Benno took over in Hamburg,' Beckenbauer said. 'He is building a really strong team.'

Mohlmann returned the compliment. 'Success is coming back to Munich with Franz,' he said. 'The game has a great feeling with a packed house and both teams at the top of the table. There is also an extra buzz because of Beckenbauer.'

Hamburg are fighting the statistics, having won only 16 of their 74 meetings, their worst record against a Bundesliga side. Bayern, however, have not won in Hamburg since late goals sealed a 3-2 win in the 1990-91 season.

Spain's league leaders, Deportivo La Coruna, are experiencing something similar to Manchester United's situation in England, having seen their lead over Barcelona dwindle to two points in recent weeks.

Deportivo have not won since their 3-0 defeat by Barcelona four games ago, and the spectacle of them choking with the title in sight, as happened the last two seasons, has begun to fade away. Today will be no easy ride, the visit of Athletic Bilbao bringing a side in fifth place, with Uefa Cup aspirations still strong.