Fan violence worries overshadow Italian Cup final
Worries of fan violence are high ahead of Sunday's Italian Cup final and Rome derby between Roma and Lazio.
After audiences with both Pope Francis and Italy President Giorgio Napolitano this week, delegations of both squads have called for supporters to behave and close out the season peacefully.
Several fans were stabbed and an ambulance was attacked before the teams' last meeting in April, which ended 1-1. Fans for both clubs have also come under attack this season for racist chanting.
Raising tensions even higher is the fact that this is the first time the teams have met in the Cup final.
Roma and Lazio have been battling each other all season, with Roma finishing sixth in Serie A and Lazio seventh, one point behind. Winning the Cup final would guarantee a spot in next season's Europa League group stage.
''I'm confident it will be a great celebration and that the fans will leave their weapons and knives at home,'' said midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who could be playing his final match with Roma after a disappointing season that often saw him relegated to the bench.''
Debate went on for weeks over what time kickoff should be at the Stadio Olimpico and eventually the slated 8:45 p.m. start time was moved up to 6 p.m. in an effort to increase safety.
''We need to set the example by not exaggerating on the pitch and increasing tensions,'' De Rossi added. ''Everyone, and especially me as a Roman, would like to see a great show of maturity by the city.''
The match could also mark the last for interim coach Aurelio Andreazzoli with Roma, with AC Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri reportedly ready to come in and take over.
Andreazzoli took over after Zdenek Zeman was fired in February.
Meanwhile, Lazio coach Vladimir Petkovic is looking to crown an impressive first season with the club. While the Bosnian had vast experience managing in Switzerland, he had never coached in Serie A before.
Lazio eliminated Juventus, which won Serie A for the second consecutive season, in the semifinals.
Petkovic has taken his club to the secluded Umbrian town of Norcia to prepare for the match in serenity.
Lazio striker and Germany forward Miroslav Klose led the club with 15 Serie A goals this season. Roma striker Erik Lamela also scored 15, while Roma's 36-year-old captain Francesco Totti had 12 and moved into second place on the all-time Italian league scoring list with 227 career goals, trailing only Silvio Piola's 274.
Roma has not won the derby since March, 2011, when Totti scored twice. Lazio then won three straight before the draw in April.
There will be no draw this time, however, with extra time and perhaps a penalty shootout to decide the winner in case of a deadlock after 90 minutes.