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Ronaldinho and the Brazilians
by Paul Kennedy, August 29th, 2008 7AM



[ITALY] AC Milan's signing of Brazilian star Ronaldinho was the big signing of the summer in Italy, but each of the five Serie A title favorites spent big on a Brazilian. Here's a look at the players who could play key roles in the race for the Scudetto that begins this weekend ...

RONALDINHO. He might have been signed as a marketing ploy, but he may be the key to Milan's title hopes. Milan opens at home against Bologna on Sunday with lots of injury problems -- Kaka is out and central defenders Paolo Maldini, Kakha Kaladze and Alessandro Nesta are all doubtful -- so the importance of a fit Ronaldinho, back from the Olympics, can't be underestimated.

AMAURI (Juventus). The lanky Amauri arrives at Juventus from Palermo, where he scored 23 goals in 53 games over the past two seasons. At 28, he has spent eight years in Italy with more modest clubs, Napoli, Piacenza, Chievo Verona and Palermo, he finally will get to enjoy the spotlight at Juventus, which paid $23 million. He's now eligible for an Italian passport and hopes to play for Italy.

FELIPE MELO (Fiorentina). The 25-year-old midfielder, signed in a $19 million transfer deal from small Spanish club Almeria, could be the surprise of the season. He is replacing Fabio Liverani as Fiorentina's holding midfielder and was outstanding in its UEFA Champions League qualifying series against Slavia Prague that concluded Wednesday.

JULIO BAPTISTA (Roma). Known as the "Beast," Julio Baptista spent two spells at Real Madrid with a loan spell in between. After finishing last season on the bench, the 26-year-old Baptista was put up for sale and purchased by Roma in a $13 million deal. He can play in midfield or up front, where he will give some muscle to the Roma attack.

AMANTINO MANCINI (Inter Milan). One Mancini leaves and another arrives. Roberto Mancini has been replaced by Jose Mourinho as coach, and one of Mourinho's major summer pickups was Amantino Mancini (whose nickname comes from the Portuguese word mansinho -- "the mild one"). After five seasons at Roma, the 28-year-old right winger has moved to Inter Milan, which paid $19 million.

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