Juve aim to tighten Serie A grip as racism rears ugly head
Champions Juventus welcome Sampdoria on Sunday looking to tighten their Serie A lead while Italian league officials reel from the latest racist incidents to mar the country's stadiums.
Juventus went into the winter break with an eight-point cushion on Lazio after pre-Christmas title rivals Inter Milan were unexpectedly held at home by Genoa, with Fiorentina cementing third place with a 3-0 away win away to Palermo.
With Inter now fourth, nine points off the pace, and fellow title challengers Napoli a massive 10 points adrift in fifth, the Old Lady of Turin has some room to breathe.
While their reported search for an out-and-out striker continues, Juventus have moved to provide cover for recently injured defender Giorgio Chiellini by signing Atalanta's Federico Peluso.
Peluso has only been handed a loan deal until the end of the season with an option to remain in Turin, but Juve's prestige in Italian football is such that Rome-born Peluso declared: "It's a dream come true."
The winter break, for some, however, will not be remembered for goodwill.
During a post-Christmas friendly against Pro Patria, Milan's Ghanaian midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng responded to racist chanting from some sections of the crowd in sensational fashion.
When it all got too much, he kicked the ball out, took off his shirt and left the pitch, to be followed by the rest of the Rossoneri. Boateng was backed up by AC Milan, who on Thursday declared there is no room for racism in modern day football.
Ahead of their hosting of lowly Siena on Sunday, coach Massimiliano Allegri told acmilan.com: "These racist episodes have to end. Walking off was the correct decision to make after the racist chants.
"We have promised Pro Patria that we will come back... but we had to give a strong signal against these episodes.
"I hope it helps set an example from the top leagues down. We had no other option but to walk off, which I hope will have repercussions. I sincerely hope these uncivilized acts do not occur again."
Milan sit seventh, at 17 points behind Juventus, and will host Siena without one of their main Brazilian stars, Alexandre Pato, who signed for Corinthians on Thursday for a reported fee of 15 million euros pending a medical.
Pato had been used sparingly by coach Massimiliano Allegri in recent months, leading to speculation that both he and compatriot Robinho, who shone for Milan prior to Christmas following recovery from injury, were on their way out.
Transfer talk has not spared city rivals Inter, meanwhile.
Andrea Stramaccioni's side kickstart their 2013 campaign with the backdrop of Wesley Sneijder's expected departure in the January transfer window, and now at nine points adrift having been only four shy of Juve in mid-December.
Despite having the edge, on paper, over Udinese, veteran Inter defender Javier Zanetti admits Sunday's game could be crucial as the nerazzurri go about closing the gap as well as challenging for the Italian Cup.
"It's a big gap but you never know in football," the Argentinian told inter.it.
"We have to keep believing it's possible all the way and hope that we're still in with a shout heading into the last month.
"We're going to give it everything we've got in all the competitions then we'll see where it gets us."
On Saturday, Lazio closed the gap on the leaders Juventus to five points thanks to two late goals in a dramatic 2-1 win over nine-man Cagliari.
Earlier on the same day, Catania vs Torino match ended in a goalless draw.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Udinese v Inter (1030), Chievo v Atalanta, Fiorentina v Pescara, Genoa v Bologna, Juventus v Sampdoria, AC Milan v Siena, Parma v Palermo (all 1300), Napoli v Roma (1845)
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