The surprise side of the season so far, Sampdoria, visit Ciro Ferrara's injury-hit Juventus tonight in a matchup of the second and third-placed teams in Serie A.
Juve's walking wounded must stop Cassano
The surprise side of the season so far, Sampdoria, visit Ciro Ferrara's injury-hit Juventus tonight in a matchup of the second and third-placed teams in Serie A. Inspired by the mercurial and controversial forward Antonio Cassano, Sampdoria are second only to league leaders Inter Milan in the goalscoring stakes, having netted 17 in nine games.
With Inter hosting Palermo tomorrow, Samp can claim the outright lead in the table too, by a point, should the beat Juve. "Antonio was my teammate at Real Madrid and I know what he's capable of. He always makes that last pass," the Juventus defender Fabio Cannavaro said. "I respect him but I don't fear him." Cannavaro is also planning to keep his eye on Cassano's strike partner, Giampaolo Pazzini, who is Sampdoria's top scorer with six goals.
And the Italy captain offered praise for Samp manager Luigi Del Neri, who previously led Chievo Verona up from the lower divisions to the upper echelons of Serie A. "Pazzini is very consistent and he's tough to mark," Cannavaro said. "The entire team plays well and they're also coached well." Juventus' defensive unit nearly mirrors the Italian national team, with Giorgio Chiellini pairing with Cannavaro at centre-back in front of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Fabio Grosso at left-back. The Bianconeri's biggest problem for this match could come in attack.
Vincenzo Iaquinta underwent surgery on his left knee yesterday and will be out for around 40 days.The Turin club's inspirational captain Alessandro Del Piero is also out, leaving only two healthy forwards for the coach Ciro Ferrara to choose from - Amauri and the delicate David Trezeguet. Sampdoria thrashed Bologna 4-1 at the weekend. "Samp is playing the most beautiful football in Italy right now," said Buffon, who also plans to undergo knee surgery at the end of the year.
To add to the team's injury woes, Juventus highly-rated midfielder Claudio Marchisio also hurt his knee recently and is out following surgery. "This game won't decide who will be Inter's main challenger. There are still 29 rounds remaining," Cannavaro added. "Yes, Inter is the strongest team in Italy, but Juve and Milan will fight until the end." Fifth-placed Fiorentina host Genoa in one of tonight's other games. The Florence side's goalkeeper Sebastien Frey, who has been in fine form, says he is baffled at not getting a call-up from France coach Raymond Domenech.
"I've never had any particular problems with Domenech but he doesn't want me in his squad and he has never explained the decision to exclude me," Frey said. Claudio Ranieri's AS Roma, who are struggling down in 12th place and are coming off a loss at home to lowly Livorno, visit Udinese and will be without captain Francesco Totti following right knee surgery. Roma said that "no other tears were found during the surgery" and the 33-year-old player would begin rehabilitation immediately, but it was unclear when he might be fit to play again.
* With agencies Juventus v Sampdoria, KO 11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport + 1