Straight from the dark heart of Italy
RESULTS Sun 13 May Catania 0-2 Udinese, Cesena 2-3 Roma, Chievo 1-0 Lecce, Fiorentina 0-0 Cagliari, Genoa 2-0 Palermo, Juventus 3-1 Atalanta, Lazio 3-1 Inter, Milan 2-1 Novara, Napoli 2-1 Siena, Parma 1-0 Bologna.
With the top two and bottom two places already sorted, attention on the final day of the season turned to third, with third from the top offering a place in the Champions League preliminary round, and third from the bottom offering a place in Serie B.
While Lecce and Genoa nervously eyed the score from each other’s match to see who would join Novara and Cesena in relegation, there were four teams in the chase to join AC Milan and champions Juventus in having their eardrums troubled by the belting out of the Champions League anthem from a stadium PA system next season, a couple of times at least.
The permutations were bountiful, so it seemed we would be in for a day of typical Italian intrigue and excitement. But sadly it was a little more straightforward.
While high drama seemed in the offing, the reality was very different: Udinese secured third spot with a routine win at Catania, while Lecce were condemned to the drop by their own failings at Chievo, leaving Genoa and Palermo to half-heartedly kick the ball around inside an empty Luigi Ferraris stadium.
Udinese can be genuinely proud of their achievement of going one better than last season, considering that each year they can expect to lose their star players - as happened with Alexis Sanchez and Gokhan Inler last summer - with Mauricio Isla widely tipped to be heading for the exit door.
In fact, Francesco Guidolin is well aware that making the group stages of the Champions League will be quite an achievement – last season the Bianconeri ran into Arsenal in the preliminaries – and the coach is now seriously considering stepping down, unsure that he can cope with another year of keeping such a small squad competitive on two fronts.
Most of the other top clubs pay their star performers more than Udinese’s overall wage bill, so attempting to overcome the likes of Napoli and Inter next season will become even more taxing.
Even Lazio will find it difficult to keep pace with Napoli and Inter, despite finishing ahead of them in qualifying for the Europa League, which sparked mass indifference, such is the prospect of Thursday evening in Minsk. No wonder Biancocelesti coach Edy Reja is not committing anything to paper just yet…
There were certainly groans of despair within the Inter ranks, with their final-day defeat to Lazio meaning they will start next season’s European campaign in early August.
But there are some who can bask in the sun for as long as they want, as the real emotional highlight of the final day was produced by a smattering of fond farewells up and down the country. Unsurprisingly, many of them dragged on a bit – at times it was like watching a whole room of pre-schoolers who had scuffed their knees, such was the uncontrollable bawling.
Alessandro Del Piero bids farewell to Juventus after 19 years' service
There wasn’t a dry eye in the San Siro, with a third of the squad finally calling it a day - and they made sure that everyone knew it.
When Paolo Maldini retired a few years back, the legendary defender ran around the pitch, waved to the fans and disappeared down the tunnel without a second glance, but Filippo Inzaghi, Rino Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta were more like overcome Oscar winners as they blubbed away even after everyone had left and the grounds staff were trying to close up.
Mark van Bommel had embarrassed himself on the Milan Channel a few days earlier, with a farewell performance that included dabbing his eyes with a hankie, but in keeping with their truly classy performances on the pitch, Alessandro Nesta and Alex Del Piero called it a day in a more tasteful manner.
Nesta had told everyone he was off because he couldn’t face trying to keep up with the likes of Leo Messi, while Del Piero turned the kick-around with Atalanta at the Juventus Stadium into a sideshow, with an impromptu lap of honour after he was substituted on the hour-mark.
Del Piero’s beaming grin was nearly as wide as Luis Enrique’s when he announced he was too “tired” to face another year at AS Roma, but at least Juve captain’s exit was a fitting centrepiece to a final day that failed to provide much on-field drama.
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