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By ESPN Staff

Serie A: Sound of silence to greet calcio return

ROME, Feb 8 (Reuters) - An eerie silence will hang over many Serie A grounds when the championship resumes this weekend.

A title race already described as damaged goods after the punishments handed out to Juventus and AC Milan in last year's match-fixing scandal now risks having the atmosphere sucked out of it by the government's tough measures approved on Wednesday.

Under the anti-hooligan measures, introduced in response to the death of a policeman in rioting at a Serie A match between Catania and Palermo last week, spectators will not be allowed into stadiums that do not conform with security regulations.

In Serie A only four stadiums - Rome's Olympic, Palermo's Barbera, Turin's Olympic, and the Artemio Franchi in Siena - are in line with the regulations.

The rest, including Milan's San Siro and Florence's Franchi stadium, require varying degrees of work to come up to scratch.

Leaders Inter Milan, for example, will resume their title bid versus Chievo Verona against the deserted backdrop of the Bentegodi - one of the grounds most in need of modernisation.

AC Milan striker Ronaldo, signed from Real Madrid for €7.5 million last month, is expected to make his Serie A return against Livorno in an empty San Siro.

Several players have opposed the idea of playing without fans including Milan captain Paolo Maldini who called it 'the death of football'.

His team mate Cristian Brocchi recalled the experience of playing in an empty stadium for Fiorentina last season.

'We need to be tough on violence at the moment, but I'm against playing behind closed doors,' said the midfielder.

'It was really awful. It's difficult to find the words to describe it. From the time I was young I dreamed about playing at a packed stadium. To play with no-one there just leaves you cold.'

Last weekend's scheduled match between Inter and AS Roma, who lie 11 points behind in second, was billed as Roma's last chance to derail the leaders' apparently unstoppable progress towards the scudetto.

That game, which was suspended along with the rest of the weekend's Serie A programme, will now be played at a date yet to be confirmed.

Roma face a home match against relegation-threatened Parma at Rome's Olympic Stadium - one of the few Italian stadiums to meet the security regulations.