Rejuvenated Juventus

EUROPEAN FOOTBALL
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The Independent Online
JUVENTUS, FACING two must-win games in less than a week, took care of the first against Rosenborg of Norway, to earn a Champions League quarter-final spot, and now face Serie A leaders Fiorentina today needing a victory to get back into the Italian title race.

"We're going to enjoy this," striker Filippo Inzaghi said of Juve's 2- 0 Champions League win on Wednesday, "but right away we have to go back and concentrate on the league. We're sure we can get back on track, and this success could really turn things around."

With Alessandro Del Piero out for the season after knee ligament surgery, Juventus have slumped to sixth, going five matches without a win and failed to score in their last four outings. But they have a core of players - from goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi and Uruguayan center back Paolo Montero to French World Cup 98 heroes Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps - who are used to success. Meanwhile, the Juventus coach, Marcello Lippi, confirmed yesterday that he would leave the club at the end of this season. "I told the directors last summer and they all know, as do the players. After five years, I felt I needed something new. I could even take a rest for a year," he said.

Fiorentina, by contrast, are enjoying their first spell on top of the league since 1982. Juventus have won five titles since.

Fiorentina's Gabriel Batistuta has already scored 12 goals in as many games this season, on pace to break the single-season scoring record of 33. The Brazilian Edmundo has chipped in with four goals to make the Florentine pair the top striking partnership in Serie A.

Right behind them, with 15 goals, are Roma's Marco Delvecchio (8 goals) and Francesco Totti (7). Taking advantage of Czech coach Zdenek Zeman's attack-at-all-costs philosophy, Roma lead the goalscoring charts with 26. Today they come face to face with the league's best defence - Parma have conceded only five goals, on course to break the record low of 15 in a season.

In Germany, the top two teams clash in the last round of league matches before the midwinter break. Leaders Bayer Leverkusen face second-placed Bayern Munich, fresh from their qualification for the Champions League last eight.

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