Napoli host Roma in high-risk Serie A clash

Justin Davis

Milan (AFP) - Napoli host Roma on Saturday in a clash whose title repercussions could be eclipsed by the painful memories for the family of the last victim of Italian football-related violence.

The sides meet at Napoli's San Paolo stadium for the first time since the death of 31-year-old Ciro Esposito, a Napoli fan who was killed by a hardline Roma 'ultra' on the fringes of the Italian Cup final last May.

Esposito was allegedly shot by a former 'ultra' leader, Daniele De Santis, who has since been arrested and is facing manslaughter charges.

When Esposito died on June 25, Napoli fans called for revenge.

At every Napoli home game, banners adorned with 'Ciro Vive' (Ciro is alive) are regularly unfurled.

Faced with the prospect of violent clashes between Napoli and Roma fans, police have tightened security with all Roma fans banned from travelling to the game.

While Esposito's mother, Antonella Leardi has called for calm authorities have taken further measures by banning the sale of tickets to any fans from the larger Rome region of Latium.

In Italy, identity cards must be shown by fans when buying tickets.

Roma, who lost ground to Juve following a scoreless draw away to high-flying Sampdoria last weekend, are now back level on points with the league leaders after Juve's first defeat of the season on Wednesday.

Massimiliano Allegri's men dominated at Genoa but were left lamenting a series of missed chances when Luca Antonini struck for the hosts in the fourth minute of stoppage time to secure a memorable win.

Three weeks after being sent to the stands for dissent during Roma's only defeat so far this season -- to Juventus -- Giallorossi coach Rudi Garcia would be forgiven for feeling confident following his side's 2-0 win over Cesena.

But Garcia said: "Juve's result is of no concern to us. Our focus has to be on our team and the crucial thing is for us to remain focused."

Roma visit a Napoli side still smarting from their failure to take all three points in a 1-1 draw away to Atalanta in midweek.

Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain and Marek Hamsik both ended their respective Serie A goal droughts last weekend, but after Higuain hit a late leveller in Bergamo the Argentinian saw an injury-time penalty saved by 22-year-old Marco Sportiello.

Slovakian midfielder Hamsik lamented: "We could have had another two points and moved up to third place. Now, we have to focus on the weekend and getting a win against Roma."

Juve are on the road for the second successive game but should account for an Empoli side struggling to make the weight in Serie A.

Maurizio Sarri's men have won only once this season, a 3-0 defeat of Palermo three weeks ago and have lost their last two games in which they have shipped seven goals.

Juventus defender Angelo Ogbonna believes Empoli could adopt the same approach as many 'inferior' sides and shut up shop at the back.

"We'll come up against the same difficulties we had in Genoa. Teams when they play us tend to defend deep and it's difficult to find space in which to operate," the 26-year-old told juventus.com.

"We need to be alert to counter-attacks and show a more clinical approach."

Lazio moved up to third following a 1-1 draw away to Verona on Thursday, meaning Stefano Pioli's men are, like Milan, Sampdoria and Udinese, six points adrift of Juventus.

Inter, in eighth at one point further adrift, could go third provisionally if they beat Parma away in Saturday's late game.

But Milan, held to a 1-1 draw at Cagliari in midweek, host struggling Palermo on Sunday when coach Filippo Inzaghi expects a win.

"We could have done more, but as of Sunday we will already have the chance to collect important points. It wont be easy for anybody to win here," he warned.

Fixtures

Saturday (all times 1300 GMT unless stated) Napoli v Roma, Empoli v Juventus (1600), Parma v Inter (1845)

Sunday

Chievo v Sassuolo, Sampdoria v Fiorentina, Torino v Atalanta, Udinese v Genoa, Milan v Palermo (1845) Monday Cesena v Verona (1700), Lazio v Cagliari (1900)