Milan home in on 18th league title

ROME, April 29, 2011 (AFP) - AC Milan can wrap up an 18th Serie A crown on Sunday with three games to spare if they beat Bologna at home and reigning champions Inter Milan fail to take three points at Cesena.

Milan lead their arch rivals by eight points with just 12 left on offer knowing that victory would leave them needing only one more point from their last three games should Inter win -- Milan have the better head-to-head record and hence need finish only level on points with Inter to be champions.

What had been building up into a thrilling three-way fight for the title could end with a whimper, three weeks before the end of the season.

Milan took a decisive lead over Inter earlier this month when they beat the nerazzurri in the city derby and when Inter then lost 2-0 at Parma a couple of weeks later, they looked out of it.

Napoli then appeared to be capable of taking Milan down to the wire but lost their last two games against Udinese and Palermo and sit nine points back, also with an inferior head-to-head record.

It means that Milan can get the champagne ready, even though they are wary of beginning the celebrations too soon.

The rossoneri could have slipped up last week at Brescia but goalkeeper Christian Abbiati made a crucial late stop to hold onto their 1-0 advantage.

Abbiati has been showered with plaudits since then and the shot-stopper believes he has had one of the best seasons of his life.

"I don't know if it's the best season of my career because in 2008 I definitely had a great year but then I got injured," he said.

"This is a great season because the team is playing well and we've almost arrived at our final goal."

If he wasn't willing to proclaim victory, Milan's rivals certainly have conceded defeat.

Inter's Giampaolo Pazzini says they lost the league in the first half of the season and left themselves too much ground to make up.

Inter trailed Milan by 13 points with a game in hand in mid-December before Rafael Benitez was fired and replaced with Leonardo.

They closed that gap to just two points before the derby but Pazzini, who only joined the club in January, says the fightback took too much out of them.

"We did a lot to get back in the race. From January onwards we had to win every game," he told Inter Channel.

"We did a great job but when we needed to be at our maximum we were visibly drained.

"You could already see it against Lecce when we won with difficulty (to close the gap to two points) but then there was the international break.

"I'm not saying the plug was pulled out but there wasn't time to recover physically and then we had these two games that destroyed us (losing 3-0 to Milan and 5-2 to Schalke 04).

"Speaking to the other guys we asked where it went wrong and the consensus was that most of all it was in the first half of the season.

"There were eight or nine games in which we earnt eight or nine points out of 24 or 27."

At the other end of the tale, Sampdoria will try to continue their bid for safety when they host second-bottom Brescia.

A defeat for Brescia could leave them needing to win their last three games to survive.

Samp, who condemned Bari to relegation last week, are above the drop zone on a better head-to-head record against Lecce.

In the race for fourth spot, Lazio host Juventus, Udinese travel to Fiorentina while Roma are at Bari.


Fixtures

Saturday

Cesena v Inter Milan (1600), Napoli v Genoa (1845)


Sunday

AC Milan v Bologna, Catania v Cagliari, Chievo v Lecce, Fiorentina v Udinese, Parma v Palermo, Sampdoria v Brescia, Bari v Roma (1845)


Monday

Lazio v Juventus (1845)

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