By Terry Daley
ROME, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Inter Milan will be out to heap further misery on struggling city rivals AC Milan but unfortunately for the 18-times Serie A champions, their most passionate fans will be absent from the Sunday's much anticipated derby showdown.
Serie A's disciplinary tribunal ordered the closure of the San Siro's Curva Nord section for two games to punish Inter's hardcore supporters for the offensive chants directed at Napoli fans during last weekend's 4-2 defeat.
The decision has outraged both sets of Milan fans, who argue the encounter will now be devoid of its usual vibrant atmosphere, and many have suggested boycotting Sunday's game in protest.
"Inter were right to suggest appealing the decision because a derby without the curvas loses a bit of its appeal. I hope there's news on this before the game," Inter captain Javier Zanetti told reporters.
Despite the muted atmosphere, Inter will be keen to confirm their recent revival under new boss Walter Mazzarri after a miserable campaign last season left them out of Europe.
With one round of games to go before the winter break, Inter are fifth on 28 points having scored 36 goals in 16 games, the most in the league.
However, they are seven points behind third-placed Napoli after losing in San Paolo last Sunday, and they will be hoping Rafael Benitez's side drop points at Cagliari on Saturday (1945 GMT) to keep them in touch with a return to the Champions League.
Milan unexpectedly are floundering in 10th place on 19 points, nine behind their local rivals and 24 points behind leaders Juventus, after winning only four league games.
Despite their mediocre displays, they are the only Italian side to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League and there are hopes that a derby win could launch a similar comeback to last season's, when they came from nowhere to snatch Champions League spot on the final day.
There campaign has been rocked by injuries to strikers Giampaolo Pazzini and Stephan El Shaarawy, boardroom unrest and constant uncertainty over the position of coach Massimiliano Allegri.
On Thursday Silvio Berlusconi said that he will start to have a closer relationship with the club again following his expulsion from the Italian parliament.
"Remember when I arrived we were in Serie B and I promised that I was going to make Milan the best team in the world. No one believed me, not even the players," said Berlusconi.
"Now I will go back to working personally on the team in order to revive it in the league and Champions League."
Unbeaten AS Roma also have to do without their own hardcore support after the Curva Sud section of the Stadio Olimpico was closed for two games following alleged racist abuse directed at Mario Balotelli during their 2-2 draw at AC Milan last week.
Rudi Garcia's side host bottom side Catania on Sunday (1400 GMT). (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)