Sensini in the mood

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The Independent Online
THE Argentine international pair Gabriel Batistuta and Roberto Sensini will be hoping to bring their considerable influence to bear on the outcome of the meeting between Fiorentina and Parma in Florence this afternoon. If one of the two sides, who share second place five points behind the leaders Milan, lose, it could effectively put them out of the title contest.

Sensini, arguably the side's most effective player this season, believes Parma can still win the championship. "I swear that at Parma we still believe we can win the title," the World Cup defender said. "We've thought that way from day one. After our two home draws with Milan and Juventus in the autumn, we perhaps got a bit demoralised. We took a while to get over those results and get going again."

Batistuta, who has scored 14 goals in 20 league matches this season, is more cautious. "Milan are definitely the strongest side in the league," he said. "I'd say that only an unexpected hiccup could re-open the title contest."

Fiorentina and Parma appear to represent the only remaining threat to Milan. Champions Juventus, joint third with Lazio but 11 points adrift of Milan, appear to have fallen too far behind.

Parma may be heavily handicapped by the absence of their Italian international striker Gianfranco Zola, who pulled a muscle in training on Thursday. He is likely to be replaced by Alessandro Melli, who lines up alongside the Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov in attack. They will otherwise be at full strength, with Dino Baggio and Sensini in midfield and Luigi Apolloni and Fabio Cannavaro in defence.

Fiorentina, too, will be without a first-choice striker - the suspended Francesco Baiano. Coach Claudio Ranieri, may move his Portuguese midfielder, Rui Costa, up front alongside Batistuta and play an extra man, Emiliano Bigica, in midfield.

Supersub Anselmo Robbiati could come on in the second half to add bite to the attack, a tactical move that has often brought success to Fiorentina this season.

Milan's Italian international midfielder Demetrio Albertini says they would be happy with a draw between their two closest rivals. "I wouldn't like to choose between the two," he said. "Fiorentina seemed to be going really well and then recently they've slowed up. A draw would suit us just fine."

That would put Milan seven points clear at the top, providing they beat mid-table Atalanta in Bergamo. They will be at full strength, which means the Croat, Zvonimir Boban, making way for the first-choice foreign trio, Frenchman Marcel Desailly, Montenegrin Dejan Savicevic, and Liberian George Weah.

Atalanta, beaten 2-0 at Napoli last week, will be without suspended Uruguayan defender Jose Herrera. But they welcome back his compatriot Paolo Montero, who missed the Napoli game through suspension.