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Roma looking for a lifeline

Published: Wednesday 3 November 2004, 10.11CET
After three defeats, AS Roma are desperate to keep their European hopes alive against Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

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Published: Wednesday 3 November 2004, 10.11CET

Roma looking for a lifeline

After three defeats, AS Roma are desperate to keep their European hopes alive against Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

By Tom Kington in Rome

When they take on Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Wednesday at Rome's Olympic stadium, AS Roma will be desperate to reverse a run of three UEFA Champions League defeats and take all three points to keep alive their slim hopes of progressing to the competition's knockout stages.

'Last chance'
"We still have a small, last chance to qualify," said Roma coach Luigi Del Neri. His Leverkusen counterpart, Klaus Augenthaler, agreed, adding: "It's not certain Roma are out - but they must win and I expect them to play aggressively."

Fired up
Leverkusen saw off Roma 3-1 at the BayArena two weeks ago to become group leaders on six points, but they have stumbled in the Bundesliga since, losing against BV Borussia Dortmund at the weekend, and they could find the Italians fired up after their own 5-1 mauling of Cagliari Calcio in Serie A on Sunday.

Empty stadium
"I want to see the same winning mentality from Roma on Wednesday night," urged Del Neri. That determination will need to come from within, however, as the game, as well as Roma's final home fixture with Real Madrid CF in December, will be played in an empty stadium after referee Anders Frisk was hit by an object thrown during the Matchday 1 meeting with FC Dynamo Kyiv.

'Not a disadvantage'
"The crowd is an important part of the game and we'll be missing that," acknowledged Del Neri. "It will be very strange for both teams," said Bayer's Hanno Balitsch. "But it will not be a disadvantage for us."

Cassano missing
Roma, who lie mid-table in Serie A, 12 points off leaders Juventus FC, have troubles on as well as off the pitch. Arriving well into the season to replace Rudi Völler at the helm, Del Neri has inherited a leaking defence and a tantrum-prone striker, Antonio Cassano, who will not even make the bench on Wednesday after his latest row with the coach.

Montella in form
At least the former AC Chievo Verona coach can count on Vincenzo Montella, who scored twice on Sunday, to maintain his position as Serie A's top scorer with eight goals. He will partner captain Francesco Totti up front in a 4-4-2 lineup. Greek international Traianos Dellas, another scorer at the weekend, will provide backbone in defence while Cristian Chivu, sidelined since April, will start on the bench.

Duo suspended
Del Neri will not be able to count on Daniele De Rossi and Christian Panucci, both suspended after picking up red cards at the BayArena, where they were guilty of the general lack of composure which has seen Roma squander leads against both Leverkusen and Madrid.

Danger men
While Del Neri singled out Leverkusen's França, Dimitar Berbatov and Robson Ponte as the "quick and aggressive" danger men his players would need to watch out for, Roma must also pay close attention to Polish international Jacek Krzynówek, whose long-range volley helped defeat the Italians two weeks ago and who is back from injury.

Three-pronged attack
Krzynówek is likely to form a three-pronged attack together with Berbatov and Andriy Voronin, who returns from suspension and will be looking to add to the hat-trick he claimed against DSC Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga last Wedneday.

Augenthaler confirmed, meanwhile, that Brazilians Juan and Roque Junior would feature at the back with Balitsch remaining in the right-back role which he filled against Dortmund at the weekend. That could see Bernd Schneider move into midfield in a 4-3-3 formation alongside Carsten Ramelow and Ponte.

Last updated: 03/11/04 11.12CET