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Cross city rivals hoping to reverse fortunes

Cross city rivals AS Roma and SS Lazio are hoping to overturn their dismal starts in the Europa League on Thursday as the under-achieving Italian capital chases a rare European title.

Winner of the defunct Fairs Cup back in 1961, Roma tumbled 2-0 at FC Basel in Group E. Lazio, which won the last Cup Winners Cup in 1999 followed by the lightly-regarded Super Cup, lost 2-1 at home to Salzburg in Group G.

Roma is reviving in Serie A, however, after Claudio Ranieri replaced Luciano Spalletti at the beginning of September and hopes to bounce back from its Europa League defeat with a home victory over CSKA Sofia.

Meanwhile, Lazio visits another Bulgarian club, Levski Sofia, which also lost its opening game 1-0 away to Villarreal.

Group A leader Anderlecht, winner of two Cup Winners Cups in the 1970s and the 1983 UEFA Cup, is facing injury problems against four-time European champion Ajax.

Argentine midfielder Lucas Biglia is struggling with a hip injury and the Belgian club might miss defender Jelle Van Damme, whose wife Elke Clijsters could deliver a baby any moment. Clijsters is the sister of tennis star Kim Clijsters.

Anderlecht has had the best possible start to Group A with a 2-0 victory at Dynamo Zagreb, while Ajax stuttered to a goalless home draw against Romania’s Timisoara. Anderlecht beat Germinal Beerschot 1-0 to extend its Belgian league lead to two points over FC Brugge while Ajax comes off a morale-boosting 3-0 win over ADO Den Haag.

Germany has not won European football’s second tier cup competition since 1977, Werder Bremen losing in last season’s final to Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine. The Bundesliga has three teams chasing the trophy at this stage.

Bremen began Group L with a 3-2 victory at Portugal’s Nacional and hopes to make it two wins in two games by beating Athletic Bilbao at home.

Hertha Berlin, which qualified for the competition after finishing fourth in last season’s Bundesliga, fired coach Lucien Favre on Monday after six straight domestic losses and now goes to Group D leader Sporting Lisbon.

The Portuguese club won its opening game against Heerenveen while Hertha drew its first game against Latvia’s Ventspils.

“We have to stop the drop,” said interim Hertha coach Karsten Heine. “I can’t believe we’ve fallen so low.”

Captain and central defender Arne Friedrich has a bruised thigh but is expected to make the trip.

Hamburg, which hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv and is last in Group C, has been boosted by a 1-0 victory over Bayern Munich 1-0 on Saturday. Midfielder Ze Roberto, the outstanding player in that game is resting a sore ankle but the Brazilian is expected to train Wednesday and should be able to face the Israeli team which beat Celtic in its opening game.

Wed 30 September, 2009
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