Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Next season will be the last in which Serie A's fourth placed side will get a crack at the Champions League, and on Sunday Udinese confirmed themselves as the team who will take the spot.
But if Sampdoria’s cautionary tale of this season is anything to go by, finishing fourth can be like knocking on the door of paradise, only for it to suddenly swing open causing you to stumble through and land firmly on your face.
As they did in 2005, Udinese grabbed that fourth and final Champions League spot. But if the side from Friuli are to join AC Milan, Inter and Napoli in the group stages they could well be handed the daunting task of having to defeat Bayern Munich, Villarreal or Arsenal in the play-off round first.
Udinese faced Barca in their last Champions League campaign
The Bundesliga has snatched the extra Champions League place from Italy for the 2012-13 season, leaving Serie A alongside France and Portugal with two automatic qualifiers and third place in the qualifying round.
So it is of major importance for the UEFA coefficient - not to mention a fillip to the domestic game - that there is a full quota of Italian participants when September’s draw for the Champions League ’proper’ takes place.
However, as the Udinese players and their coach Francesco Guidolin - who made good on his word to embarrass himself like tipsy uncle at a wedding reception - celebrated at the end of their goalless draw against champions Milan, the feeling was that this was as probably as good as it gets.
By all accounts it appears the spine of a team that has lit up the league with the free-flowing football since losing their first four games will be removed. Central defender Christian Zapata is a target for Arsenal, central midfielder Gokhan Inler is set for a switch to Bayer Leverkusen, while Alexis Sanchez will go to whichever club comes closest to €40 million asking price.
Could Sanchez and Gokhan Inler be about to leave Stadio Friuli?
Bianconeri president Giampaolo Pozzo revealed that he had already turned down €35 million and is biding his time to see whether that un-named club – although it doesn’t take too deep a knowledge of football finance to work out it is probably Manchester City – come back with an even larger sack of money.
While the little Chilean dribbles off towards untold riches, the old maestro Antonio Di Natale will of course remain to lead the attack on the back of being crowned Serie A top goalscorer for a second consecutive season – the first player to do so since Giuseppe Signori for Lazio in 1993 and 1994.
The veteran ended up on 28 goals but was denied improving on that total when Milan goalkeeper Marco Amelia saved his spot-kick, but that little blip could not dampen the scenes of genuine joy at the full-time whistle. The result meant that Lazio couldn’t catch them, whatever the Rome side did at Lecce.
It helped that Udinese were playing against a pretty compliant Milan side, who had themselves spent the previous week in party mood. Yet the champions' spirits were dampened with the news that Alexandre Pato was once again set for an extended period on sidelines and definitely ruled out of the Copa America after suffering a dislocated shoulder.
Pato is carried off the pitch in agony with a shoulder injury
In the event, Lazio ran out 4-2 winners but had to settle for fifth place and direct qualification for the Europa League, missing out on fourth place by virtue of their inferior goal difference.
The Biancocelesti at least ensured their rivals may be forced to curtail their summer break; the win saw Lazio finish ahead of AS Roma, who will now enter the Europa League in the third qualifying round should Palermo win the Italian Cup against Inter on Sunday.
It was the end of the road for the Sensi family at the Olympic Stadium and, after defeating Sampdoria 3-1 with Francesco Totti scoring his 207th Serie A goal, the captain presented outgoing president Rosella with a bunch of flowers while the rest of the team trooped by for a sweaty embrace with the tearful Signora.
There were no flowers and probably not even a farewell card for Gigi Del Neri, who ended his brief and terrifying reign at Juventus with a draw against Napoli, making a hasty exit with the Old Lady failing to qualify for Europe.
You couldn’t really say it was harsh or particularly surprising as the team failed to break free of the coach’s strict and prosaic game-plan to finish in seventh place.
The task of rebuilding Juve’s pride will be handed to one of their most combative midfielders Antonio Conte who took Siena back into the top flight and returns to the club with a reputation of suffering fools lightly which should make for some interesting discussions with the club’s hierarchy.
With the relegation issue already done and dusted last week, there was little to play for in six of the ten last day fixtures - for most it was just time to party and nowhere did they do that with more gusto than in Genoa.
The Rossoblu fans staged a mock funeral through the streets of the city to ‘mourn’ Samp’s drop to Serie B, but they did so in the manner of a Mardi Gras parade resplendent with floats, coffins and a fair smattering of nuns who were by no stretch of the imagination members of any holy order.
With that imagine burned into our brains let’s hope that Udinese can touch heaven rather than descend into hell come August.
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