Football Italian Preview: Inter await Lazio

LAZIO, TOP of Serie A for the first time since 1975 and favourites to win only their second league championship (their sole Scudetto triumph was in 1974) will be out to further avenge defeats in last season's Uefa Cup final and, more recently, in the Italian Cup when they entertain Internazionale in tomorrow's live Channel 4 game at the Olympic stadium.

Rome's big spenders, also favourites to relieve Chelsea of their Cup- Winners' Cup trophy this spring, splashed out in the summer, signing Christian Vieri, the Italian international striker from Atletico Madrid for pounds 19m, and Marcelo "the matador" Salas, the Chilean forward, from Argentine club River Plate for pounds 12m. Lazio were hit by injuries early on, but still gave Inter a humiliating 5-3 beating at San Siro in October. They have since staged a nine-match winning run which was only ended when Cagliari, their hosts last week, held them to a 0-0 draw at their notorious island stronghold.

Conversely Inter, who meet Manchester United in the European Cup quarter finals next month, are in disarray. Their league form, particularly on the road - they have won just two and lost five of their 11 away games - has been erratic and they lie fifth, eight points behind their hosts tomorrow. Moreover, on Wednesday, Inter hit a new low when, in the first leg of their Italian Cup semi-final, they lost 2-0 at home to Parma after three of their players were sent off, following a major run-in with the referee.

Inter's plan this season to link up Ronaldo, their brilliant Brazilian centre -orward, with the veteran play-maker Roberto Baggio, signed from Bologna in the summer, has been thwarted by injuries to both, especially Ronaldo, plagued by tendinitis since the World Cup. Inter have looked impotent without their key front men, losing 2-1 at lowly Perguia last week. Ronaldo and the winger Francesco Moriero will be missing tomorrow but Ivan "Bam Bam'' Zamorano, their veteran Chilean striker, returns.

For Lazio, Vieri (fever) faces a fitness test, while defender Giuseppe Pancaro has influenza. Paolo Negro deputises.

Other games tomorrow: Bologna v Empoli; Juventus v Vicenza; Milan v Cagliari; Salernitana v Parma; Sampdoria v Piacenza; Udinese v Bari; Venezia v Perugia. Tomorrow night: Fiorentina v Roma.

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