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SERIE A

Osimhen fires blank as Napoli disappoint in 0-0 draw against Verona

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Serie A - Napoli v Hellas Verona - Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Naples, Italy - April 15, 2023 Napoli's Victor Osimhen in action with Hellas Verona's Diego Coppola REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

Leaders Napoli were held to a goalless home draw by relegation-threatened Hellas Verona in Serie A on Saturday as Luciano Spalletti’s side finished winless for the third time in their last four games in all competitions.

Napoli, who on Wednesday were beaten 1-0 at AC Milan in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, saw their advantage over second-placed Lazio narrow to 13 points after Maurizio Sarri’s men grabbed a comfortable 3-0 win at lowly Spezia on Friday.

Coach Spalletti rested midfielder Stanislav Lobotka, winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and defender Mario Rui from the starting line-up with Tuesday’s return leg in mind, but both Lobotka and Kvaratskhelia were called on in the second half.

Serie A’s top scorer Victor Osimhen, who returned to Napoli’s match squad after being sidelined with a thigh strain but was expected to be back in action only for the European clash, also came on from the bench.

Napoli thought they had opened the scoring in the 20th minute but Matteo Politano’s deflected strike was disallowed after Verona goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo was obstructed by a player in an offside position.

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The visitors had a chance to take a surprise lead just before the half-hour mark but striker Kevin Lasagna, who ended a solo run with a powerful shot from a distance, was denied by Napoli keeper Alex Meret.

Although Napoli enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, reaching 81% in the second half, they appeared toothless against Verona’s solid defence and managed only three shots in the opening 45 minutes, none of them on target.

The hosts came close to taking the lead again in the 56th minute through a Giovanni Di Lorenzo header which, however, went narrowly wide of the right post.

Amid a growing sense of frustration, substitute Osimhen then wasted a promising chance in the closing stages when he hit the bar in the 82nd minute.

Verona could have turned the hosts’ moods from bad to worse by sealing a win in stoppage time through a solo effort by winger Cyril Ngonge who, one-on-one with Meret, struck well wide of the target.

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Verona, who are winless in seven out of their last eight games, are 18th on 23 points, three points from safety.

They remain the only Serie A side yet to win an away league match this campaign, with five draws and nine losses.

Milan were held to a 1-1 draw at eighth-placed Bologna earlier on Saturday, with Bologna striker Nicola Sansone opening the scoring inside the first minute and Milan’s Tommaso Pobega equalising in the 40th.

Stefano Pioli’s men, who would have provisionally moved up one place to third with a win, have now failed to win five of their last six Serie A games.

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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SERIE A

Osimhen’s Napoli European hopes end with 0-0 draw against Lecce

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If Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen remains in Napoli in the next season, he will not have any action in UEFA competitions.

Napoli lost their slim chances to participate in European competitions next season when they were held to a 0-0 home draw by Lecce in their last Serie A game of the campaign on Sunday.

Last season’s champions Napoli finished 10th on 53 points, level with ninth-placed Torino who were beaten 3-0 at Atalanta in a simultaneous kick off on Sunday.

Despite their loss, Torino can now still earn a Europa Conference League playoffs spot if eighth-placed Fiorentina, who have a game in hand, win the Europa Conference League.

Fiorentina face Greece’s Olympiacos for the title on Wednesday.

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Napoli needed a win to maintain their European hopes but despite 24 shots, five of them on target, they ended their disappointing campaign winless in their last seven games.

Substitute Cyril Ngonge had a good chance to give Napoli the lead just after the break but his shot from the edge of the box was saved by Lecce goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone.

Jens Cajuste hit the far post with a low strike shortly before Ngonge hit the bar in the 64th minute.

Europa League winners Atalanta, meanwhile, secured at least fourth spot after Gianluca Scamacca, Ademola Lookman and Mario Pasalic were all on target in a 3-0 win against Torino.

They sit fourth on 69 points but can still leapfrog third-placed Juventus, on 71 points, if they beat Fiorentina in their last remaining game next Sunday.

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-Reuters

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SERIE A

Osimhen’s Napoli European hopes hanging by a thread

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Italian champions Napoli’s hopes of playing European football next season were hanging by a thread after they played out a 2-2 draw at Fiorentina in Serie A on Friday.

Napoli took the lead in the eighth minute through defender Amir Rrahmani, who nodded home a corner by Matteo Politano.

Cristiano Biraghi levelled for Fiorentina in the 40th minute from a free kick, before M’Bala Nzola put the hosts in front two minutes later when he fired a shot into the bottom corner of the net.

Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia responded with another stunning free kick early in the second half to rescue a point for his team.

Eighth-placed Fiorentina, on 54 points and with a game in hand, are five points behind Lazio in seventh.

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They can still earn a Europa League spot either by leap-frogging the Rome side or by winning the Europa Conference League final in which they face Greece’s Olympiakos on May 29.

Ninth-placed Napoli, on 52 points, still have a slim chance of making the Europa Conference League playoffs.

-Reuters

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SERIE A

Last chance for Osimhen’s Napoli to clinch continental ticket

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Serie A - Napoli v AS Roma - Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Naples, Italy - April 28, 2024 Napoli's Victor Osimhen celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

Napoli’s defence of the Serie A title has long since ended and they must beat Fiorentina on Friday to have any hope of playing European football next season.

Napoli strolled to the Scudetto last year, clinching the title with five games to spare and finishing 16 points ahead of runners-up Lazio.

This time around it was Inter Milan who wrapped up the league with five games remaining, and Napoli are ninth in the standings, 41 points adrift of the leaders with a Conference League spot their only chance of European competition.

Fiorentina, two points ahead of Napoli with a game in hand, won their previous meeting 3-1 which could prove vital should the sides end the season level on points and the head-to-head record comes into play.

Napoli are without a win in their last five games, while Fiorentina have won three of their last five league matches.

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Fiorentina have qualified for this season’s Conference League final, where they face Greek side Olympiakos in Athens, looking to go one better than last year when they lost to West Ham United in the final

The Viola, unbeaten in Europe this season, will look to end the league campaign on a high and take that momentum into the final.

Napoli will probably be without top scorer Victor Osimhen, a serious doubt for the trip to Florence with a muscular problem, while Fiorentina welcome back Andre Belotti who missed Monday’s win over Monza.

Atalanta will bid to overcome the disappointment of Wednesday’s Coppa Italia final loss to Juventus when they play Lecce away on Saturday. Atalanta are fifth, the last Champions League spot, with a three-point lead over AS Roma and a game in hand.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta side may well go into this game with one eye on next week’s Europa League final against Bayer Leverkusen, and victory in that would also guarantee them Champions League football.

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Roma can take advantage of an Atalanta slip-up when they host Genoa on Sunday. Lazio are one point behind Roma in seventh and travel to champions Inter.

Bologna moved into third place ahead of Juventus on goal difference last weekend, and the sides meet on Monday, where the hosts will hope Juve continue a poor league run of five successive draws. AC Milan, who have secured second place, are at Torino on Saturday.

There is still much to be decided at the bottom of the table.

Salernitana, the only club definitely relegated, on Monday they host Hellas Verona who are 14th in the standings, two points ahead of Empoli in 17th.

Empoli on Sunday visit Udinese, another side in danger who one point ahead in 15th. Sassuolo are 19th, three points from safety, and must beat 16th-placed Cagliari on Sunday to give themselves any hope of survival.

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-Reuters

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