Football - PREVIEW-Lotito defiant as Lazio visit Cagliari

Lazio will become the latest team to experience the empty terraces of Cagliari's Sant'Elia stadium when they visit the Sardinians on Sunday (1700 GMT) although it is a scenario they will be familiar with themselves.


Cagliari moved back to the Sant'Elia in October after a fruitless 18-month search for an alternative when they ended up playing most of their games in Trieste, around 1,000 kilometres away on the mainland near the Slovenian border.

However, due ongoing construction work, the capacity has been reduced from 23,000 to just under 5,000 with only part of the main stand and one of the terraces behind the goals currently in use.

Lazio lost 1-0 at home to Atalanta in front of an empty Stadio Olimpico last Sunday but for an entirely different reason as fans boycotted the fixture in protest at club president Claudio Lotito.

Supporters are angry at what they see as a lack of investment in the team and were furious when playmaker Hernanes was sold to Inter Milan in the January transfer window.

The ultras' attitude towards Lotito has been frosty ever since he bought the club in 2004 and is in stark contrast to their extremely cosy relationship with free-spending predecessor Sergio Cragnotti. Lazio won seven trophies under Cragnotti including Serie A and the old European Cup Winners' Cup.

But Lotito told Rai Sport that he had been forced to sort out the club's finances.

"When I took over Lazio there was a debt of 550 million euros and there was no merchandising or television station or radio station as there is today," he said. "Today, this is a strong club in terms of patrimony.

"Our youth teams are among the best in Italy," he added, as he defended his record. "Lazio is a reference point for innovation in Italian football, where clubs are only just beginning to recognise the importance of combining good financial results with sporting ones.

"I have always acted in complete transparency and in the exclusive interests of the club. I'm only guilty of having too much affection for this club."

Lotito said he wanted Lazio to have their own stadium, rather than using the Stadio Olimpico, but the plan was being slowed by red tape.

"With a stadium that belongs to Lazio we can define our own future. It would take three years to build, the problems are the various permits that we need," he said.

He also promised new signings for next transfer window.

"I've got a list of purchases ready, we will buy for a number of positions and top level players will arrive," he said, adding they would include a well-known forward.

Despite all the problems, Lazio have staged something of a revival since Edoardo Reja took over as coach in January and are eighth with 38 points, six adrift of the last Europa League place.

Runaway leaders Juventus (72 points), who are 14 points clear of AS Roma, aim for their fifth win a row when they visit midtable Genoa on Sunday (1945).

Roma, whose form has suffered after a series of injuries, have to wait until Monday evening to host Udinese (2000). However, there is some good news for coach Rudi Garcia as talismanic forward Francesco Totti is expected to be back after missing three games with a buttock injury.

Roma are now in danger of being caught by Rafa Benitez's Napoli who are three points behind and visit Torino in another Monday match (1800).

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