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May 2, 2006

Inter Milan seeking compensation in cup

ROME, May 2 (Reuters) - Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini, under-fire for a disappointing season domestically and in Europe, sends his side into the Italian Cup final against AS Roma with his future at the San Siro on the line.

The club's owner, Massimo Moratti, has refused to be drawn publicly on his coach's future but defeat could cost Mancini his job.

In a repeat of last year's final which Inter won 3-0 on aggregate, Roma host the first leg on Wednesday with the return at the San Siro on May 11.

Twelve months ago Inter's first domestic triumph since winning the 1989 Serie A title was hailed as the launch pad for success in the 2005-06 season.

After exiting the Champions League in the quarter-finals and again playing second fiddle to Juventus and AC Milan in the race for the scudetto, Inter's fans are demanding victory in the Cup final as recompense for another disappointing year.

For Roma, winning the Cup would cap a season in which they played some of the most attractive football in Italy despite being heavily depleted by injuries.

One injury saga in particular has dominated the build-up to Wednesday's match at Rome's Olympic Stadium: the will-he-won't-he guessing game over whether Francesco Totti is ready to play his first competitive match since fracturing a bone in his ankle in February.

There may even be some Inter fans who would like to see the Roma captain back sooner rather than later - to end his 72-day exile from competitive football and prove he is regaining the form he needs to spearhead Italy's World Cup bid in Germany.

Last week the 29-year-old striker announced he would play some part in the first leg, though he admitted: "We've yet to decide whether it's on the bench or from the first minute."

If, as is generally expected, Totti starts on the bench, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti will field Rodrigo Taddei as a lone striker up front, with Damiano Tommasi, Simone Perrotta and Mancini in support.

More important for the team is the return of central defender Philippe Mexes, who was suspended for Sunday's 4-4 Serie A draw against Chievo Verona, to reinforce a back four that has conceded eight goals in three matches.

The pallid performances of Inter striker Adriano - scorer of just four goals in 2006 - has not helped Inter's cause.

The Brazilian was the hero of last season's Italian Cup victory over Roma, when he struck both goals in the 2-0 first leg win.

Mancini has recently preferred a strike partnership of Obafemi Martins and Julio Cruz, but could give Adriano a chance to redeem himself after resting him for the first half of Sunday's 1-0 defeat against Empoli.

Inter are third in Serie A with two rounds left and cannot catch leaders Juventus or city rivals AC Milan who are three points behind the Turin side. Roma are fifth.