Milan hosts promoted Bologna in the season opener

Fiorentina is determined to establish itself as a title contender

MILAN: Defending champion Inter Milan faces a tough test in its first game of the Serie ‘A’ season this weekend when the Nerazzurri travel to play Sampdoria.

Inter is coming off three straight league titles and a victory over AS Roma last week in the Italian Super Cup. New coach Jose Mourinho now looks to continue his good start when he oversees his first Serie ‘A’ match.

“We are honoured to give Mourinho his Italian baptism,” said Sampdoria’s team director Giuseppe Marotta. “We saw the Nerazzurri in the Super Cup and they are a battleship. We will take them on showing the utmost respect.”

Sampdoria finished fifth last year and until the final month of the season threatened to take fourth place and a spot in the Champions League. The team is led by playmaker Antonio Cassano, who showed good form during the preseason.

In Saturday’s other game, Udinese hosts Palermo.

The rest of the table plays on Sunday with Fiorentina and Juventus meeting to rekindle an old rivalry. Both teams reached the group stage of the Champions League this week and will be looking to start the league on an equally positive note.

Fiorentina is determined to establish itself as a title contender after spending more than 40 million euros on players, including striker Alberto Gilardino, during the off-season. The team also rejected Roma’s 20 million euro offer for Romania striker Adrian Mutu.

“Fiorentina acquired the right to be in the race for the title,” said former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi. “I think they can win the title come May.”

Totti injured

Roma — which has finished second behind Inter in the last two seasons — opens at home against Napoli.

In his first game back after a knee injury in April, Roma captain Francesco Totti missed a penalty in the shootout against Inter on Sunday that would have given the Giallorossi the Super Cup title.

He will sit out the game against Napoli to nurse a slight ankle injury sustained in that match.

Napoli was to play the return leg in the UEFA Cup qualifying round against Albanian team Vllaznia. Napoli won the first leg on the road 3-0.

Roma is still seeking to make one more signing before Sunday’s transfer deadline.

The Italian press reported on Thursday that Monaco midfielder Jeremy Menez was close to signing with the club. Luciano Spalletti will have to juggle his players in a bid to make up for a relatively weak bench that hurt the team last year as it struggled to replace injured players.

After finishing fifth last season, AC Milan missed out on the Champions League and will be concentrating its efforts on Serie ‘A’. Milan hosts promoted Bologna in the season opener that will be the first competitive game for Ronaldinho in a Milan jersey.

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti will also be able to call on Alexandre Pato and the just-signed Andriy Shevchenko who returned to his former club after two unsuccessful years at Chelsea. Brazil playmaker Kaka will be out for at least two weeks with a sore knee. — AP

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