ROME: Time is running out for strugglers Torino, who desperately need a win at home to title challengers AC Milan today to keep alight their flickering hope of avoiding the drop.
A solitary victory this season has left the seven-time champions second from bottom in Serie A, nine points adrift of safety.
A far cry from the team that used to be feared and revered in equal measure, Torino look destined for second division football next season.
But one man has not given up hope of a miraculous recovery and is refusing to throw in the towel, despite taking a beating 13 times in 21 matches.
The present is not so beautiful, Torino patron Francesco Cimminelli said this week.
We need an injection, a victory against a big team to help us believe that we can survive.
I have confidence in this team but we must remain calm.
It's hard to believe Torino once dominated Italian football, winning five of their seven league titles between 1942 and 1949.
Tragedy struck on May 4, 1949, when the entire team perished in a plane crash on the Superga hills overlooking Turin. The club never recovered from the disaster and after years in mid-table mediocrity, Torino were relegated in 1959.
A return to form saw them win their seventh and final Scudetto (league title) in 1976 under coach Gigi Radice, but since then Torino have been up and down like a yo-yo.
After holding their own last season the sale of their best players to pay off debts has seen them struggling once again this term.
Meanwhile a thigh strain could rob Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti of Andriy Shevchenko on Saturday. The Ukrainian striker missed Wednesday's 1-0 Champions League win over Lokomotiv Moscow and could miss the trip to Turin.
Another team battling for their Serie A safety are Piacenza, who face the stars of second-placed Inter Milan at the San Siro on Sunday. However, their coach Gigi Cagni has little time for reputations.
Asked if his team could cope against the likes of Christian Vieri and Gabriel Batistuta, he replied: I don't give a stuff about Inter.
The only thing that interests me is my players. We have worked hard all week and we have nothing to fear.
Now we need to get stuck into Inter. That's what shin pads are for.
Inter themselves will be looking to bounce back after back-to-back defeats.
Hector Cuper's team lost 2-1 at Chievo last Saturday to concede first place in the table, while their hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Champions League suffered a setback in midweek after a 3-0 defeat at Barcelona.
League leaders Juventus, who visit bottom club Como on Saturday, will be hoping to have eleven fit players after a flu bug ravaged their squad this week.
The Italian title-holders were forced to field a severely depleted team for their Champions League match against Manchester United on Wednesday which Juve lost 2-1.
However Como coach Eugenio Faschetti feels even the eleven that started against United would prove a handful for his relegation-threatened side.
Influenza? It doesn't change a thing. If we come up against the team that played in England we will still have a fight on our hands, he said.
In other matches fourth-placed Lazio welcome improving Atalanta to the Olympic stadium while Chievo, in fifth, visit Modena.
AS Roma, whose hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Champions League were virtually extinguished on Tuesday after suffering a third consecutive second phase defeat, play away to Udinese. AFP
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