Pandev exile nearing end

ROME - Lazio's Goran Pandev is likely to be absent once again from his side's clash at Serie A leaders Inter Milan on Sunday but the Macedonia forward's long exile could be about to end.

Pandev has been frozen out at the Rome club since requesting a transfer in the close season but he may be free to choose a new side in January if legal action to free him from his contract is successful. A ruling is expected soon.

Lazio looked like they might be able to cope without Pandev and midfielder Cristian Ledesma, who is involved in a similar wrangle, when they beat Inter to win the Italian Super Cup in August.

Since then, they have badly missed both players and last weekend's 1-0 win over Genoa was only the third Serie A win of the season for the 15th-placed side.

Pandev would be especially useful this weekend with Argentine forward Mauro Zarate suspended.

"It's a shame that Goran isn't playing," Zarate told reporters this week. "Without him and Ledesma we are weaker. But these are decisions for the club to make."

Pandev has been linked to Inter Milan as Jose Mourinho wants an extra striker to cover for Samuel Eto'o while the Cameroonian is at the African Nations Cup next month.

Mourinho named Pandev as a possible target, along with Palermo's Edinson Cavani and Bayern Munich's out-of-favour Italy striker Luca Toni, but club president Massimo Moratti ruled out any January buys on Thursday.

Inter, who are without suspended Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder for Sunday's match at the San Siro, can expect competition if Moratti changes his mind and they do go after Pandev.

AC Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani has said his club are looking for a player who can attack from the flanks to fill in when Ronaldinho or Alexandre Pato is unavailable.

Milan, who are five points behind Inter in second, face a tough visit to Fiorentina on Saturday.

Faltering Juventus, a point further back in third, host bottom club Catania on Sunday.