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Despite sitting pretty atop UEFA Champions League Group H with three wins from four matches, FC Internazionale Milano coach Roberto Mancini was careful to guard against complacency ahead of Wednesday night's encounter with FC Artmedia at the Giuseppe Meazza.
"This match is not to be underestimated," said Mancini, who knows a place in the last 16 awaits if his side at least draw with an Artmedia team who have travelled well in their inaugural group-stage campaign - famously beating 2004 champions FC Porto 3-2 before drawing 0-0 at Rangers FC. "This game is not going to be easy, even though some people see it that way," continued the coach. "As we know, Artmedia won at Porto and took points off Rangers."
Inter captain Javier Zanetti, recently returned to the fold after injury, echoed his coach's remarks, saying: "These are the most dangerous types of game. When we go out on to the pitch, we need to be attentive and not let up." The Italian club opened their campaign with a 1-0 win against Artmedia in Bratislava, but it was far from one-sided. Plus, they again have the handicap of playing to an empty stadium following the three-match ban on spectators handed out after last season's UEFA Champions League quarter-final against AC Milan.
Mancini also has concerns over Adriano, with the Brazil forward without a European goal since August. Strike partner Julio Cruz has bailed out Inter several times already, notably on Matchday 4 when his second-half double earned a 2-1 victory against Porto. "Cruz has been playing well up front for us, which is important because in general a team plays for its forwards," said Mancini, a man who knows a thing or two about scoring.
Both Inter and Artmedia enjoyed weekend victories. Luís Figo registered his first goal for the Nerazzurri and Esteban Cambiasso added the other in a 2-0 success against Parma FC which ended a three-game winless streak. Alvaro Recoba missed out after returning from Uruguay's FIFA World Cup play-off defeat by Australia with a minor ankle problem, but should be available along with Siniša Mihajlović (muscular injury) and Zé Maria (knee).
Artmedia, meanwhile, showed they are not ready to surrender their Slovakian crown by coming from behind to beat FC Spartak Trnava 2-1 and close the gap on the leaders to four points. Strikes from Branislav Obžera and Lukáš Hartig prompted coach Vladimír Weiss to say: "It was the biggest league game of the year from our point of view and in my opinion the best one - we showed great team spirit."
Goalkeeper Juraj Čobej was sidelined with a shoulder injury on Saturday, although Weiss said "he should be OK" by midweek. Like Ondrej Debnár, struggling with the recurrence of a knee complaint, Čobej was involved in a vigorous session at the San Siro on Tuesday evening. However, it was to end in disappointment as Hartig sustained a hand injury requiring hospital treatment.
Weiss, who last appeared in this stadium as a Czechoslovakia player at Italia '90, said of the challenge ahead: "Nobody thought we had a chance of making it to the knockout rounds but here we are, still in contention." Locked on five points with Rangers and two clear of Porto, even a point in Italy would leave Artmedia well positioned to continue their European adventure into the new year.
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