Roberto Mancini's Inter finally making headway in Serie A


Wed, Dec 20, 2006 - Page 19

Winning is becoming more than a habit to Inter Milan -- more like a reflex.

The Nerazzurri won a club-record ninth straight in Italy's Serie A on Sunday against visiting Messina to maintain a seven-point lead atop the standings.

It will go for a 10th consecutive victory at fifth-placed Lazio today -- but Inter coach Roberto Mancini isn't interested in statistics. He's focused on the one thing the defending champion hasn't achieved since 1965 -- successive Serie A titles.

"The final victory is the only thing that interests us," Mancini said.

Inter impressed against Messina, winning 2-0 on goals by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Materazzi. Worryingly for the powerhouse's other Serie A rivals, Mancini believes his team can get better.

"Perfect teams don't exist. In reality, you can always improve -- even midseason. We can do so both in defense and attack," Mancini said.

Strikers Ibrahimovic and Hernan Crespo have scored seven league goals each and Inter's defense has not conceded a goal in 560 minutes.

With France captain Patrick Vieira providing cover in midfield, Inter's defense has also proved an attacking weapon. Right back Maicon provided the assist for Ibrahimovic's goal on Sunday and center back Materazzi scored his third of the season with a stunning bicycle kick.

"It was a spectacular goal, one a striker would have been proud of," Mancini said. "Marco is doing really well both in his [defensive] role and in attack."

Inter will be without injured Julio Ricardo Cruz (knee), Fabio Grosso (hamstring) and Olivier Dacourt (hamstring) for today's clash. Walter Samuel and Vieira are also doubtful with thigh strains.

Lazio will miss suspended midfielder Massimo Mutarelli and influential striker Tommaso Rocchi, who was sent off in Sunday's 1-1 draw with Livorno.

Also today, AS Roma -- in second place with 35 points -- travels to Torino after trouncing third-place Palermo 4-0 at the weekend. Francesco Totti is in top form, scoring twice against the Sicilians to give him a league-leading 11.

Roma midfielder Simone Perrotta is an injury doubt after twisting his ankle on Sunday.

Palermo, four points behind Roma, should have an easier time against last-placed Ascoli, which has only taken three points from its last 10 games and remains winless.

Fourth-placed Catania will be well rested for its trip to AC Milan, after Sunday's match against Empoli was postponed due to a waterlogged field.

Milan, which rallied to a 2-2 draw against Fiorentina on Saturday on goals by Alberto Gilardino, will hope the striker is at the start a goalscoring streak -- the Rossoneri's weakness so far this season, with only seven of its 16 goals coming from forwards.

Milan is 14th with 14 points after starting the season with an eight-point penalty from the Italian match-fixing scandal.

In Serie B, Juventus plays league-leader Bologna on Tuesday. The Turin powerhouse has 28 points -- three fewer than Bologna -- but has played one game less, after Friday's match against Cesena was postponed after the drowning of two youth club players at the club's training facility near Turin.

Juventus midfielder Pavel Nedved is still suspended but David Trezeguet has recovered from injury is expected to partner Alessandro Del Piero in attack, for the first time in over a month.