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Soccer-Red-hot Gervinho leads rampant Roma into derby

Reuters

By Terry Daley

ROME, Feb 6 (Reuters) - AS Roma, with Gervinho in inspirational form, go into Sunday's Rome derby (1400 GMT) looking for more than local bragging rights as they face a crucial week that could see them put two years of humiliation behind them.

Roma hit rock-bottom last May when they were beaten 1-0 by Lazio in the Italian Cup final, a result that came after two seasons of below par displays and boardroom confusion following the club's sale to a group of American entrepreneurs.

However, they go into the derby placed second in Serie A on 50 points and are on a blistering run of form.

Since being taken apart 3-0 by champions Juventus just after the winter break, they have won six games in a row in league and cup, scoring 15 goals and conceding three.

Rudi Garcia's side also look like the first Roma team in a generation to not heavily rely on ageing talisman Francesco Totti, with the form of lightning-quick Gervinho, who has scored four goals in 2014, part of the reason.

They take a 3-2 lead into next week's second leg of the Italian Cup semi-final in Naples after the Ivory Coast international scored two in Wednesday's thrilling last-gasp win over Napoli in Rome, and they look almost certainties for Champions League football next year.

"Let's put it this way. If we race each other without a ball then Usain Bolt wins, but if there's a ball in front of us then I will win," joked Gervinho after scoring the winner two minutes from the end.

Roma are nine points behind league leaders Juventus, who face a tough trip to fifth-placed Hellas Verona.

However, Roma have a game in hand after last weekend's match with Parma was called off due to torrential rain in the Italian capital making the Stadio Olimpico pitch unplayable, while Juventus cuffed bitter rivals Inter Milan 3-1.

STARTLING PROGRESS

A win for Roma on Sunday would make it two derby victories this season after September's scrappy 2-0 triumph, and if they hold out in Naples it will confirm the startling progress made under Garcia.

"The last two years we've had really good sides with brilliant players but we were lacking mental toughness and that's what all of us players here have tried to help create and develop," said Rome-born Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi.

Lazio, meanwhile, are unbeaten in five since Edy Reja took up the reins again in January and were impressive in last week's 2-0 win at Chievo, but the club has been rocked by off-field controversy.

Club president Claudio Lotito claimed he received more than 50 death threats from fans as a result of the sale of Brazilian midfielder Hernanes to Inter Milan in the winter transfer window.

It is also a crucial week for Napoli, who host a rejuvenated AC Milan led by new boss Clarence Seedorf on Saturday (1945 GMT), and coach Rafael Benitez.

Benitez has come under fire for the squad rotation that saw Napoli hammered 3-0 at Atalanta on Sunday leaving them 15 points off the pace.

Napoli could find themselves level on 44 points with fourth-placed Fiorentina by the time they kick off, with Vincenzo Montella's side taking on Atalanta in one of Saturday's two early games (1700 GMT).

That is not good enough for fans of a team that was expected to put up a title challenge, and nor will it be good enough for president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

"I know how to manage a squad," said Benitez on Tuesday. "But I also know that if I win I'm a genius, and if I lose I will be criticised. I know the rules." (Editing by Rex Gowar)

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