Sat, Jan 26, 2008 - Page 18 News List

LEGA CALCIO: Inter out to down stubborn Udinese

AFP , ROME

In the last season-and-a-half there is only one team that Inter Milan have failed to beat and this weekend the reigning champions and league leaders will try to correct that statistic.

Inter, the champions in 2006 and last year, are dominating Italian soccer and over the last 18 months they have lost only once in the league, to Roma towards the back end of last season, and have only failed to beat one of their Serie A rivals: Udinese.

The two sides met on the opening day of the season at Milan's San Siro and only an injury time Ivan Cordoba goal saved Udinese from defeat.

If not for that goal, Inter would have beaten every other Serie A team over the last campaign-and-a-half.

In their three meetings with Udinese in this period, the north-eastern outfit have managed to hold their more illustrious opponents to a stalemate.

And tomorrow, they will have the chance to once again demonstrate their own Champions League qualification credentials as they take on Inter at home in a game they must win to keep their hopes of finishing fourth alive.

Inter have been majestic all season but a few cracks have started to show.

The leaders needed a dubious late penalty to help them overturn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory against Parma last weekend -- an incident that has had the Italian press speculating all week that Inter are being favored by referees.

That suggestion has so angered the champions that they have refused to speak to the press all week.

That match, though, did show that Inter are beatable, even if they did escape thanks to the contentious penalty.

And in midweek they let in two late goals, albeit whilst down to 10 men, in a pulsating 2-2 Italian Cup draw against Juventus.

If anyone can deal Inter their first league defeat of the season, maybe it is Udinese who were very unlucky not to beat European champions AC Milan last weekend, before harshly going down 1-0 to a stoppage time strike from Alberto Gilardino.

Milan for their part find themselves in a slightly desperate situation having lost 2-1 at Atalanta in midweek.

That result dropped them to 10th in the table, with two games in hand, and distanced them from the crucial fourth place and Champions League qualification.

That is currently held by Fiorentina, who leap-frogged Udinese last week, and take a three-match winning run to struggling Empoli this weekend.

Such is AC Milan's plight that the excuses have been coming thick and fast this week, even from ex-players.

"This club has done really well in European competition because they have players who use their great experience to attain the best possible results," Netherlands coach and former Milan striker Marco van Basten said. "In the league it is more difficult to get results, especially at home, because all the other teams come to defend."

Nobody is likely to believe that it is easier to beat Barcelona in Europe than it is to topple Cagliari at the San Siro, but that seems to be exactly what Milan are claiming to explain their poor form.

They have won just six of 17 league games this season, including only one at home, and sit 25 points off bitter city rivals Inter and 10 points off the crucial fourth place.

The visit of Genoa, two places and one point above them in the standings, is not the kind of must-win game they expected to be facing before the season began back in August.

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