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SERIE A

Milan, Inter battle on two fronts for Champions League qualification

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Champions League - Semi Final - First Leg - AC Milan v Inter Milan - San Siro, Milan, Italy - May 10, 2023 AC Milan's Brahim Diaz and Sandro Tonali in action with Inter Milan's Marcelo Brozovic REUTERS/Claudia Greco

Locked in battle for a place in the Champions League final, AC Milan and city rivals Inter are also vying with each other in Serie A for a spot among Europe’s elite next season and will treat their remaining league tests as seriously as their semi.

Inter grabbed two early goals through Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to secure an impressive 2-0 win over Milan in the first leg of their Champions League last-four tie on Wednesday, taking a significant advantage into next week’s return encounter.

One of the two sides will become the first Italian finalist since Juventus faced Real Madrid six years ago, but a potential showdown against powerhouses Real or Manchester City leaves them no room to relax on the domestic front.

Neither of the Milan-based clubs can be assured of a top-four spot just yet, with Inter fourth in the standings on 63 points and Milan right behind, on 61.

Inter could not have timed their return to form any better as Simone Inzaghi’s men are on a six-game winning streak in all competitions, four of them in Serie A.

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A home win against mid-table Sassuolo on Saturday could bring some breathing space ahead of their return leg with their rivals on Tuesday.

For Milan, who face Spezia on Saturday, things are different and last year’s Serie A champions have little room for error left.

Milan have won only two of their last six games on the domestic front, with four draws, and they need to quickly rebound from their Champions League disappointment if they want to return to the competition next season.

“I will try to make the best choices to try to win against Spezia and then overturn this (semi-final) result,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said following their defeat to Inter.

“Playing as Milan, playing better, with quality and intensity” is the way forward, according to the coach.

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As well as lowly Spezia, Milan face already-relegated Sampdoria and struggling Hellas Verona in three of their remaining four league outings but all are must-win matches given Pioli’s side also have to visit second-placed Juventus.

Spezia, who are 18th, have not won any of their last eight games and on Saturday could register their longest ever streak without a Serie A victory.

For third-placed Lazio, three losses in their last four games have shaken things up at the capital club, and a home game against 16th-placed Lecce may help them regain some much needed balance.

“At halftime I saw a disheartened team and this is the aspect that worried me the most,” coach Maurizio Sarri said after their 2-0 loss at Milan last weekend.

Lazio had recorded seven wins and one draw in eight Serie A matches before their form nosedived, which saw them drop from second to third in the table, one point ahead of Inter.

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Champions Napoli will travel to Monza on Sunday after their fans got to celebrate the title with a home win over Fiorentina last week.

Juventus will host second-bottom Cremonese on Sunday in between their two Europa League semi-final matches against Sevilla.

-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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