ROME - Inter Milan v Napoli has long been an eagerly anticipated north against south clash in Italian football and a strong South American influence now gives the Serie A clash an extra edge.
When the teams run out at the San Siro on Saturday for a crucial early-season contest in the race for the scudetto, well over half the players could hail from that continent.
Internazionale Milano, traditionally Italy's team with strong international links, could line up with nine South Americans.
Mauro Zarate, who scored the winner in the Nerazzurri's midweek Champions League win at CSKA Moscow, looks set to join Uruguay's Diego Forlan and Argentina's Diego Milito in attack after Italian Giampaolo Pazzini twisted his ankle in Russia.
The team from Naples, the city from which many Italians emigrated to South America at the beginning of the 20th century, is catching up fast.
Aurelio De Laurentiis, the Azzurri's film producer president, undertook a summer spending spree in Argentina, homeland of former Napoli great Diego Maradona, and five south Americans could start despite the loss of Edinson 'El Matador' Cavani through injury.
Inter's Argentine captain Javier Zanetti, who this week celebrated a club record 757 appearances, said he would like to remain in Milan even longer.
"I would love to stay at Inter and have other responsibilities but it's not something I've thought too much about," the 38-year-old Argentine told club website. "I want to dedicate all my energy to the final years of my playing career."
Fifth from bottom after failing to win any of their opening five matches under Gian Piero Gasperini, Inter, scudetto winners from 2006-2010, go into Saturday's match in buoyant mood with two wins out of two for new coach Claudio Ranieri.
"Ranieri's done very well, beyond expectations," president Massimo Moratti told reporters of his fourth coach since Jose Mourinho led Inter to the Champions League title 16 months ago.
"It wasn't easy but he's been able to take the squad in hand as much on the psychological side as in tactics."
Moratti, whose side are again likely to be wihout Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder due to a muscle strain, confessed to a soft spot for the big club in Italy's impoverished south.
"We all cheered Napoli on the other night [against Villarreal]," he said. "They are a nice team with players desperate to succeed, but it's too early to say which one of us is the more likely to challenge for the scudetto."
Napoli, whose title aspirations last season were dented by away defeats to their closest challengers, are banking on a return to form for Macedonian striker Goran Pandev, on loan from Inter.
"Unfortunately, Edy [Cavani] is out but we have to give other players their chance to grow," De Laurentiis, whose side lie fourth after four games, told local station Radio Marte. "I would be pleased if Pandev is fired up to score a goal against his former team-mates."
The impressive performances of Juan Zuniga in the right wing-back position make the Colombian favourite to start ahead of fit-again Christian Maggio with centre half Ignacio David Fideleff set to replace the injured Salvatore Aronica.
Serie A's other big game of the weekend sees champions AC Milan travel to Turin for the first heavyweight clash at the state-of-the-art Juventus Arena.
Juventus, top of the standings alongside Udinese despite two draws in their last two matches, have striker Fabio Quagliarella back after being out for most of 2011 and Milan's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic should play after shining in the Rossoneri's 2-0 Champions league defeat of Viktoria Plzen.
Promoted Atalanta travel to resurgent AS Roma in Saturday's early game, while on Sunday Udinese host Bologna and inconsistent Lazio visit fifth-placed Fiorentina.comments