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Serie A Week 1 - 31/8/08 (14.00 UK)
Roma - Napoli
The 124th Derby del Sole is as hotly anticipated as any in recent history. The rivalry between Roma and Napoli came to the boil in the `80s and after several tepid years it’s back to its bubbling best. Last season’s corresponding fixture was arguably the game of 2007-08. It ended 4-4. Put simply it had everything.
Everything, that is, except a Naples audience. The match was played behind closed doors for the away fans at the wishes of the authorities, but that won’t be the case this season. The Analytical Committee for the Security of Sporting Manifestations has given Roma and Napoli the all clear to sell tickets for Sunday’s encounter as an “injection of trust in clubs and fans that truly love football.”
That’s encouraging for calcio as is the resurgence of Italy’s two best-supported teams outside of the North. The Giallorossi are once again challenging for the Scudetto while the Partenopei hope to break into Serie A’s top four for the first time in 16 years. This weekend’s game will give a strong indication as to which of the two teams is best prepared to realise their respective goals.
In the short-term Roma will be looking to record their first competitive victory since President Franco Sensi passed away last week. The Lupi have experienced a rough pre-season and failed, despite a courageous performance, to retain the Italian Super Cup at the weekend.
Coach Luciano Spalletti used the summer months to experiment with a 4-1-4-1 formation, but will almost certainly stick with the 4-2-3-1 system, which has brought the club so much success in recent years. Francesco Totti is expected to shake off a calf strain sustained during the Super Cup while new signing Julio Baptista is likely to play either on the left or behind the Giallorossi captain.
Napoli go into the new season full of confidence after an ambitious summer in the transfer market and victory in the Intertoto Cup. The Partenopei are in action on Thursday in the second preliminary round of the UEFA Cup, but Coach Edy Reja insists Napoli will be ready come Sunday. Olympic gold medalist Ezequiel Lavezzi will be thrown into the side barely a week after returning from Beijing yet the Argentine striker can’t wait to form a partnership with compatriot and new arrival German Gustavo Denis.
Keep an eye on: German Gustavo Denis (Napoli) – Nicknamed the “Tank” because of his stature and ability to break through defences, 27-year-old Denis has already endeared himself to the Napoli faithful after scoring a string of goals in pre-season.