Football: Inter's credibility gap narrows: Henry Winter anticipates an intriguing season in Serie A, starting tomorrow

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PONYTAILS, dreadlocks and Red Sea-style centre partings return to our screens tomorrow as Baggio, Gullit and Lombardo try to be a cut above the rest in the most glamorous league in the world - Italy's Serie A.

A game of Milanese monopoly is not expected this time out, although the scudetto could still end up at the San Siro with Milan's rivals, Internazionale, the momentum generated by their furious finish last season maintained by the midsummer arrival of Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk.

The Dutch duo keeps San Siro's Netherlands' contingent at three, Milan having said farewell to Ruud Gullit and the imperious Frank Rijkaard, two former Amsterdam schoolmates who gave the best years of their careers to the Rossoneri cause. Gullit has gone to join David Platt at Sampdoria while Milan's coach, Fabio Capello, called Rijkaard's return to a delighted Ajax 'my biggest regret'. Now, only a convalescing Marco van Basten remains.

Arrigo Sacchi, the Italy manager, believes the San Siro shift of Dutch personnel represents a watershed. 'The addition of the two Dutchmen has increased the strength and quality of Inter's squad,' Sacchi said. 'The players realise it could be their year.'

The purchase of Bergkamp, Van Basten's natural international successor, and Jonk, born in the same village as Arnold Muhren, make Inter slight favourites but an open season was forecast in midweek when, despite the presence of their pounds 10m Ajax alumni, the Nerazzuri were humiliated by Paul Gascoigne and Lazio. 'I'm worried,' Osvaldo Bagnoli, Inter's coach, said.

Not without reason. Six others hold legitimate title claims. Milan have acquired the versatile Brian Laudrup on loan as well as a decent right-back in Christian Panucci ( pounds 4m from Genoa). Ominously, Boban, Savicevic and Papin have looked sharp in pre-season. Sampdoria will be even more attractive to watch with Gullit and Platt assisting the bald and the bold - Attilio Lombardo and Roberto Mancini.

At Lazio, Dino Zoff has only two real worries: his back line and Gascoigne's waistline. If both stay in shape Lazio will prosper, particularly if Pierluigi Casiraghi, newly arrived from Juve, shares Beppe Signori's goal-load.

Lazio's city cousins, Roma, have been rescued from bankruptcy and, with ex-Udinese striker Adel Balbo leading the way, appear a good outside bet. The Old Lady of Juventus has been slumbering since Michel Platini left her but in Roberto Baggio the Uefa Cup-holders have a proven matchwinner. The joker in the chasing six- pack is Parma: third in May, Asprilla, Brolin, Zola and Melli could propel them higher this time.

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