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Serie A Leaders Inter Close in on Consecutive Win Record
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Serie A leaders Inter Milan will equal the record for consecutive wins in Italy's top division if they notch up their 11th straight victory at home to Atalanta on Saturday in the last round of matches before the winter break.

Roma, who are seven points behind Inter in second place, currently hold the record for successive wins which they set last season.

Inter defeated Lazio 2-0 in Rome on Wednesday to take their winning streak into double figures and become winter champions, the title given to the team that finishes top at the halfway stage of the season.

There are still two games to go before the season reaches the halfway mark of 19 matches, but as Inter have a seven-point advantage they cannot be caught.

Being crowned winter champions counts for little, but it does give a good indication as to which team will win the championship. 66 percent of the teams who finished top at the halfway stage in Serie A have gone on to claim the Scudetto.

Inter are odds on to retain the title as they close in on Roma's win record, but club president Massimo Moratti is showing no interest in statistics.

"All that counts is how we finish at the end of the season," he said.

"I don't care about becoming winter champions or about winning 10 games in a row. It will mean nothing if we don't win the title."

Inter, who finished third last season but were handed the Scudetto after Juventus and AC Milan were found guilty of match-fixing, will be without in form central defender Marco Materazzi and Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to suspensions.

Atalanta, who were promoted from Serie B last season, do not travel well with just one win to their name away from Bergamo.

Roma's French defender Philippe Mexes is hoping Atalanta can do his side a favor against Inter.

"It would be a real shame if we were to lose the record for successive wins," he said.

"I'll certainly be cheering for Atalanta this weekend. If they were to win and we do too, it would also help our title chances."

Second-placed Roma host Cagliari at the Olympic stadium where Francesco Totti is likely to hand over the penalty-taking responsibilities if the hosts are awarded a spot-kick.

Totti's miss in Wednesday's 2-1 victory at Torino was the Roma captain's fourth fluffed penalty of the season.

AC Milan, languishing in midtable having been deducted eight points for their match-fixing crimes, play away to Udinese.

Bottom club Ascoli, who have amassed just six points and are the only team in Serie A without a win, face a crunch home match against fourth from bottom Chievo.

Saturday's fixtures (all 14:00 GMT kick-off)

Ascoli v Chievo, Catania v Sampdoria, Fiorentina v Messina, Inter Milan v Atalanta, Livorno v Torino, Parma v Lazio, Reggina v Empoli, Roma v Cagliari, Siena v Palermo, Udinese v AC Milan

(China Daily December 23, 2006)

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