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Fiore in bloom again

S.S. Lazio midfield player Stefano Fiore could be a key man when his side travel to take on FC Porto.

By Paddy Agnew

This time last year midfield player Stefano Fiore had been discarded by the Italian national side ahead of the FIFA World Cup while Lazio were struggling to finish sixth in Serie A. Now, however, the Roman club are in line for UEFA Champions League qualification, in the semi-finals of both the UEFA and Italian Cups and Fiore has regained his place in the Azzurri squad. Before Thursday's UEFA Cup semi-final first leg at FC Porto, Fiore talked to uefa.com.

uefa.com: Last summer could you possibly have predicted the way things would go this season?

Stefano Fiore: It was hard to imagine us doing as well but just when we seemed in real trouble we're having a great run. It was a terrific personal victory to get back into the national squad as plenty of people had written me off.

uefa.com: What went wrong for you last season?

Fiore: Rome can be a hostile environment for a new player when there are high expectations of you. We were not playing well, had low self-confidence and the season just went from bad to worse.

uefa.com: How important has coach Roberto Mancini been in regenerating the players?

Fiore: He's a key figure in our revival. His great strength was having faith in us, convincing us what happened last year was merely a one-off. He has no favourites and makes everyone feel they have an important role to play. He has our total respect. He was a Lazio player so he knew the club, the environment and everything that goes with it.

uefa.com: How important would it be to win the UEFA Cup?

Fiore: Very important. We want to win something, otherwise people will be saying 'you lot were good, but what did you win?'

uefa.com: What do you know about Porto?

Fiore: I haven't seen them play but the coach has and he tells us they are a good team, full of the sort of technical quality you expect of Portuguese sides. They're leading their league too and even if is not as competitive overall as Serie A, it can still throw up a side that could give us plenty of trouble.

uefa.com: Do you know any of the Porto players?

Fiore: I don't know many apart from Deco who is an excellent player.

uefa.com: How have the players coped with Lazio's financial problems.?

Fiore: We have concentrated exclusively on football. There have been moments when we have been worried about our future, but we have a great team spirit and desire to prove that last year's Lazio was not a true reflection of our merits.

uefa.com: It is true that the players are willing to accept shares in the club in lieu of outstanding wages?

Fiore: Yes, we may accept something like that. You have to acknowledge Europe-wide that players' wages have got out of control. Clubs can no longer spend more than they earn. If a club like Lazio were to fold then something is very seriously wrong with football.

uefa.com: What does it mean to see three Italian sides in the quarter finals of the Champions League?

Fiore: It's very satisfying. Italian clubs have been out of the top flight of European competition for too long. There is a great chance of an Italian side making the final this year.

uefa.com: With so much media attention focused on the war in Iraq, do you sometimes find it difficult to concentrate on football?

Fiore: I watch the news, but I'm not obsessive about it because the images are ugly. Let's just hope that the war finishes soon and that peace returns.

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