Rome's Stadio Olimpico will be a less accommodating place for Inter Milan this evening than it was three days ago. Cheered not only by their own loyalists but bizarrely, and noisily, by large numbers of Lazio fans during the 2-0 win over Lazio in Serie A that put Jose Mourinho's team back on top of the league, Inter have since had a tongue-lashing from the scarlet part of the Italian capital.
The Laziale applauded Inter at the weekend because only the Milan club can stop Lazio's fierce rivals Roma winning the scudetto; Roma now jeer Inter for having been gifted three points on the principle that Lazio's local enmity took priority over their competitive spirit. At least that's how Rosella Sensi, the Roma president, stirred the pot ahead of tonight's Coppa Italia final, the final head to head of a season in which the participants, Roma and Inter, have emerged as comfortably the best sides in Italy.
"After what we saw the other day, you can't really say we have the best league in the world," fumed Sensi to reporters. "If I were Inter, I'd be embarrassed to win that way." Trying to heap embarrassment on Inter has become a fashion. Mourinho has been taking flak for the last seven days about the ultra-defensive way his team approached the second leg of their Champions League semi-final in Barcelona.
Inter have indeed become a tough, organised unit at the back in the last two months, and much credit for that goes to their South American contingent. Read from the back, and the first seven positions in the Inter starting XI most trusted by Mourinho to negotiate the three prizes still on his agenda are filled by Argentines - Javier Zanetti, Walter Samuel and Esteban Cambiasso - or Brazilians. Julio Cesar, Inter's goalkeeper, will travel to the World Cup next month hoping by the end of it to be anointed the planet's finest shot-stopper.
Lucio has been a tower in defence lately, while Maicon has been decisive at both ends of the field from full-back. Thiago Motta, Italo-Brazilian by citizenship, will be missed in the Champions League final in two and half weeks' time, suspension depriving Inter of his feisty energy. There was a time when Brazilian football used to be considered vulnerable in one major area: goalkeeping. In the most celebrated of all Brazil's five World Cup-winning teams, that of 1970, the goalkeeper, Felix, was said to be the only weak link. Sociologists reckon that goalkeeping became something Brazilian boys looked on as a cursed job for generations after Moacyr Barbosa, the custodian in the 1950 World Cup final defeat to Uruguay, at home, became the scapegoat.
Now, Brazil exports excellent goalkeepers as readily as it sends outfield players to Europe. "We are lucky to have perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world," says Inter's Sulley Muntari of Julio Cesar. To which Roma might reply they feel blessed three times over for Brazil's apparent golden generation of keepers. On Roma's roster are Doni, considered essential back-up in the national squad to Julio Cesar; Artur, a Brazilian, and the man who has eclipsed Doni in the estimation of Claudio Ranieri, the Roma, Julio Sergio.
At 31, Julio Sergio is something of a late developer, having only made his league debut for Roma, where he has been on the staff nearly four years, last August. But he is regarded as one of the heroes of the 24-match unbeaten run that resurrected Roma's campaign, as is Juan, who may partner Lucio in Brazil's central defence at the World Cup. Indeed, the Coppa Italia final will be watched with interest by Dunga, the Brazil coach. He will be pleased his goalkeepers are ending the season on a high; that his defenders, Maicon, Lucio and Juan are chasing trophies. He may also note that, as far as the Italian league is concerned, Brazilians are looking better as suppliers of steel and solidity rather than finesse. Pato, Milan's Brazilian striker - who has been troubled with injury - and Ronaldinho are finishing the campaign disappointingly, while Diego, the Juventus playmaker, has flattered to deceive. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Roma v Inter, 10.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +1
Toninho Cerezo, Roma and Sampdoria Tireless midfielder who played at 1978 and 1982 World Cups and spent a decade in Italy with Roma and Sampdoria, with whom he won the 1991 scudetto. Jose Altafini, AC Milan Hero of Milan's first European Cup in 1963, he represented Brazil at the 1958 World Cup and then, with new citizenship, Italy four years later. Jair, Inter Milan Speedy striker who won two European Cups with Inter and the 1962 World Cup with Brazil. Roberto Falcao, Roma Roma legend and scudetto winner in 1983 and part of fabled Brazil midfield of 1982 World Cup. Careca, Napoli Striker who was foil to Diego Maradona at Napoli during that club's epic years of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dunga, Fiorentina World Cup-winning captain and now Brazil coach. The rock of Fiorentina's midfield in the 1980s. Claudio Taffarel, Parma Goalkeeper who raised the reputation of Brazilian custodians. Part of Parma's exciting side in the early 1990s. Cafu, Roma and AC Milan Galloping right-back with stamina and a Peter Pan agelessness. Had his best years at Roma, including the 2001 scudetto, before joining Milan. Ronaldo, Inter and AC Milan Plagued by injury for his four years at Inter, but when fit, devastatingly skilled, strong and superb in front of goal. Past his best when he later joined Milan. Kaka, AC Milan Dominant in Milan's 2007 Champions League success, and influential in their seizing the 2004 Serie A title. * Compiled by Ian Hawkey