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Football | Italy

Alessandro Matri © Action Images

Juve open 2013 as big favourites



Reigning champions Juventus hold a firm upper hand in the Serie A when action resumes at the weekend after a two-week winter break.

Juve's closest chasers Lazio lie eight points behind going into the 19th round that marks the half-way mark of the season. Fiorentina and Inter Milan trail by another point.

As most commentators agree that Juve are headed for their 29th title, goalkeeping captain Gianluigi Buffon looked back with relish at 2012.

The 2006 world champion recalled on Facebook "again winning a scudetto (his third) with Juventus, a beautiful European (championship) adventure with the national team (losing in the final to holders Spain) and a truly superlative start to the current season."

After 18 games, Juve's good form has brought them six more points than last year, and they also won their Champions League group.

As Buffon said he looks forward to "even better achievements in 2013," club president Andrea Agnelli warned that the new year "will be harder than the past one," telling fans to forget the past triumphs "because the next is always the most beautiful win."

Looking ahead to a Champions League knock-out phase starting in mid-February - a duty they missed last season - the Bianconeri have already moved on the January transfer market by signing Federico Peluso from Atalanta.

The defender is to fill in for the injured Giorgio Chiellini - out for the next two months - while Kwadwo Asamoah may be busy with Ghana in the Africa Cup of Nations up to February 10.

Serie A action on Sunday poses little threat for Juve as they welcome struggling Sampdoria a day after Lazio host troubled Cagliari.

Fiorentina on Sunday are at home to lowly Pescara, and Inter face a difficult trip to Udinese.

The year gone by seems to have had little effect on Inter's Argentine captain Javier Zanetti, a 39-year-old living legend quoted this week as saying that "If I feel like I do now, I could play one more season."

A southern-Italy derby between Napoli and Roma closes the weekend late Sunday, after AC Milan v Siena, Chievo v Atalanta, Genoa v Bologna and Parma v Palermo. Catania and Torino open the round on Saturday.

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