New turf for Milan

Football: European round-up
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The Independent Online
MILAN, the Italian league leaders, have spent pounds 150,000 to have their San Siro pitch returfed in time for their opening New Year game against Sampdoria. Milan, who go into today's game one point clear of Fiorentina, have drawn their last two home games against Napoli and Torino.

On both occasions the Milan coach Fabio Capello argued that the poor condition of the San Siro pitch had handicapped his side's attacking game. Since stadium renovations were carried out for the 1990 World Cup, the pitch has sparked consistent controversy and has been returfed 10 times.

The Milan attack will be led by the newly crowned European Footballer of the Year Georges Weah, flanked by Roberto Baggio and Marco Simone. Dejan Savicevic is not yet fully fit and he will be replaced by Zvonimir Boban in midfield alongside Marcel Desailly and Demetrio Albertini.

For the second time this season Sampdoria turn to a second choice goalkeeper in 21-year-old Matteo Sereni. First choice Angelo Pagotto, who is to undergo a knee-cartilage operation, originally came into the side at the start of the season following an injury to former Italian international Walter Zenga.

Second-placed Fiorentina travel to the in-form Roma, who beat champions Juventus 2-0 in Turin on the final day of 1995. The match brings together two Swedish midfielders, Jonas Thern of Roma and Stefan Schwarz of Fiorentina, who began their professional careers together at Malmo.

Thern argues that Fiorentina's successful season owes a lot to the former Arsenal man, Schwarz. "He's an inspirational figure on the field, a player who always wants to win," Thern said. "If this year's Fiorentina are a much improved side, much of that is because of Schwarz's arrival."

Schwarz, in his first season in Italy since moving from England, is unconcerned about playing against his old friend. "For me, it'll be just another game," he said. "There are no special games or opponents."

The game also provides an Argentine double in attack where Fiorentina look to Gabriel Batistuta, leading marksman with 10 goals, and Roma to Abel Balbo. Both sides will be at full strength.

Champions Juventus, currently fifth, six points behind Milan, travel to Atalanta, the side who knocked them out of the Italian Cup in October.

Juventus coach Marcello Lippi may drop Fabrizio Ravanelli in attack, recalling Alessandro Del Piero who was rested for two games prior to the Christmas break. Atalanta will look to the experience of their Uruguyan defenders Jose Herrera and Paolo Montero to contain Juventus.

Parma, three points behind Milan in third place, recall their Bulgarian striker, Hristo Stoichkov to partner Gianfranco Zola for their difficult game at Torino. Parma will miss midfielder Massimo Crippa and defender Fabio Cannavaro, both suspended, while Torino will be without the suspended Ghanaian Abedi Pele.

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