Internazionale target record-equalling feat
ROME, December 21 (Serie A) - Internazionale have been crowned Italy's 'winter champions' but will be determined to make Serie A history by beating Atalanta this weekend to maintain their supremacy in the race for the title that really matters.
The title of 'winter champions' is purely honorary and is bestowed on the team that leads at the halfway point of the season.
With a seven-point lead over second-placed Roma, it is already certain that Inter will top the table at that point.
Inter's 2-0 win at Lazio on Wednesday extended their winning streak to 10 consecutive games and they could now equal Roma's all-time Serie A record of 11 wins on the trot by beating their visitors from Bergamo this weekend.
That would ensure that the Nerazzurri would take at least a seven-point lead into the winter break as they bid to win the Scudetto on the field this season.
Last term they ended their 17-year title drought somewhat unsatisfactorily when they were awarded the crown retrospectively after Juventus and AC Milan were both punished for match-fixing.
Against Atalanta they will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic who was sent off against Lazio.
Roma are the only team within sight of Inter and will look to stay on their coat tails by winning at home to Cagliari who got off to a losing start under new coach Franco Colomba when beaten 2-0 at Fiorentina in midweek.
While Inter are leaders and champions, Roma have given them a good run for their money in 2006 with the fortunes of the Eternal City club apparently transformed by the sale of their troublesome striker Antonio Cassano to Real Madrid last January.
They have scored a division-high 38 goals and Francesco Totti is Italy's leading goalscorer with 12.
A further four points off the pace are third-placed Palermo who end a memorable 2006 with a trip to Tuscany to play Siena.
The Rosaneri have been the surprise package of the year and are in third place while they contributed four players to Italy's victorious World Cup squad in the summer. Two of those players, Fabio Grosso and Simone Barone, have already departed, to Inter and Torino respectively.
Now, if reports are true, a third, Andrea Barzagli, could be a target for Real Madrid in January.
There is another huge gap, 11 points, between third-placed Palermo and fourth-placed Sampdoria who play their final match of 2006 in Sicily against another team doing far better than expected, Catania.
One team that will be glad to put 2006 behind them is AC Milan who are 28 points behind Inter - eight of those are because of a punishment for match-fixing.
They sign off for the year with a trip to Udinese who are fifth.
All eyes will be on Udinese's World Cup-winning striker Vincenzo Iaquinta who is being linked very strongly with the Rossoneri and may make the move to the San Siro in January.
Livorno host Torino while Messina make the trip to Florence to play Fiorentina.
Lazio travel to the Stadio Ennio Tardini to play struggling Parma while Reggina is the destination for Empoli.
All bottom club Ascoli want for Christmas is their first win of the campaign but they host an in-form Chievo who have boosted their own fight against relegation by taking 10 points from a possible 15 in their last five matches.