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Jan 25, 2007

Serie A: Inter target repeat win over Sampdoria

ROME, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Inter Milan have little to fear ahead of the league trip to Sampdoria on Sunday, having already swept their opponents aside in the Italian Cup this week.

Sampdoria are one of only three teams to take points from Inter this season, having held the Serie A leaders to a 1-1 draw at the San Siro in September.

Inter are now at the top of their game and the gulf between the Milan club and the rest was evident on Wednesday when a second-string side beat Sampdoria 3-0 in their Italian Cup semi-final first leg in Genoa.

Coach Roberto Mancini's strangehold on the title race has prompted several Italian bookmakers to stop taking bets on Inter.

Their record-breaking run of victories in the league stands at 13, they have an 11-point advantage over second-placed AS Roma and the strength in depth of their squad offers little hope to pursuers of a late-season collapse.

As if the task facing Sampdoria was not difficult enough, Mancini is expected to recall Brazilian Adriano and fellow striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic plus in-form midfielder Dejan Stankovic.

All three scored in the 3-1 win over Fiorentina last weekend.

Mancini's embarrassment of riches is further increased by the return of striker Julio Cruz from injury.

The Argentine international, who scored six goals in eight games before damaging knee ligaments in November, said this Inter team were easily the strongest since he arrived at the club in 2002.

'We have made a leap in quality this season, not only from a technical point of view but also mentally,' said Cruz. 'We have a new confidence, we rarely get distracted and we usually approach games in the right way.

'The players who arrived this season (Ibrahimovic, Patrick Vieira and Hernan Crespo) are all world-class but the improvement is also down to the club's faith in Mancini and the group of players he has put together.'

Elsewhere on Sunday, Roma need to beat Siena to revive a title bid which looks almost dead on its feet following back-to-back draws against Messina and Livorno.

The frustration of their long and fruitless pursuit of Inter was palpable at the end of last week's game at Livorno when Francesco Totti lashed out at home defender Fabio Galante and received a red card.

The resulting one-match suspension means Roma will have to do without their captain and leading scorer against Siena.

Palermo, a further four points behind in third, have also dropped points recently, with two draws in their last four games.

On Saturday, the Sicilian side face a tough match against sixth-placed Lazio.

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