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SERIE A

Nigeria-born Okafor strikes late to earn Milan draw in six-goal thriller with Sassuolo

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Serie A - U.S. Sassuolo v AC Milan - Mapei Stadium - Citta del Tricolore, Reggio Emilia, Italy - April 14, 2024 AC Milan's Noah Okafor scores their third goal REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzin

Second-placed AC Milan twice fought back from two goals down to secure a 3-3 draw at relegation-threatened Sassuolo with a late equaliser by substitute Noah Okafor in Serie A on Sunday.

Okafor has a Nigerian father and Swiss mother.

Milan have 69 points, six ahead of Juventus with six matches left. Sassuolo are second-bottom with 26 points. Inter Milan, who host Cagliari later on Sunday, are runaway leaders on 82.

It was a frustrating match for Milan, who dominated possession and chances, particularly for Samuel Chukwueze who had two goals disallowed for offside by a hair’s breadth.

Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli also made several fine saves, notably a sensational early stop when he clawed away Malick Thiaw’s header which was destined for the top corner.

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“We tried absolutely everything. We scored three goals and created many more chances. Nobody could have complained if we’d scored five or six today,” Milan boss Stefano Pioli told DAZN.

“I saw errors today but there was nothing wrong with the attitude and I’d not say we were distracted by other issues,” he added ahead of Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final return leg at AS Roma

Milan also meet Inter on April 22 in a match that could potentially secure the Nerazzurri their 20th league title.

“Clearly, Inter will win the Scudetto. We’ll do everything we can to win the derby. That’s to make our fans happy, to confirm second place and that’s a prestigious target,” Pioli said.

MILAN SHOCKED

Sassuolo shocked Milan after four minutes when the unmarked Andrea Pinamonti volleyed home from close range after a fine cross was flicked on with his heel by Kristian Thorstvedt.

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Armand Lauriente then doubled the lead six minutes later after sprinting into the box and striking a shot that was blocked by keeper Marco Sportiello but rebounded into the path of the Sassuolo striker for an easy finish.

Rafael Leao revived Milan’s chances with a goal in the 20th minute when he went on a solo run, slipped past two defenders and slotted the ball into the far corner of the net.

The excitement continued as Lauriente scored again eight minutes after the break before Milan’s Luka Jovic pulled one back just before the hour mark from close range.

Sassuolo looked exhausted near the end of the match, with Milan creating several chances but Consigli stood strong.

However, in the 84th minute Okafor received the ball inside the box and secured a hard-fought point for the visitors with a well-placed shot two minutes after coming on.

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The late equaliser saved Milan’s blushes ahead of their visit to Roma on Thursday with a 1-0 advantage as they try to clinch a place in the Europa League semi-finals.

“Roma played very well at San Siro, whereas we were below our usual level. If we play to our level then I expect it to be a balanced encounter and incidents can make the difference,” Pioli said.

-Reuters

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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