Milan, Fiorentina in final European push
Updated published : 17 May 2013 00:47:00Rss feed
AC Milan and Fiorentina's duel for Serie A's final Champions League place, and a Udinese-Lazio battle for Europa League qualification will bring the curtain down on the Italian season this weekend.
With Juventus having wrapped up their 29th league title two weeks ago, and Napoli securing the second automatic qualifying place for the Champions League, the focus falls firmly on qualifying for Europe.
Milan, crowned European champions seven times, currently sit in third place -- nine points behind runners-up Napoli -- with a two-point lead over Fiorentina.
The pair's battle to finish in third has taken a dramatic turn of late, with Fiorentina openly scoffing Milan's decision to present their new, gold-coloured shirt for next season, complete with an embroidered Champions League logo, on their official website.
Fans of the Milan giants would say they have every right to feel confident of a top-three finish as they host a Siena side which, along with Palermo and Pescara, have already been relegated.
Fiorentina have an equally manageable fixture -- at least on paper -- away to Pescara and coach Vincenzo Montella refuses to give up his dream of leading La Viola into the competition for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
"I believed when we were six points adrift, so we believe even more now," Montella said.
Montella's side have deservedly won praise this season, putting the likes of Montenegrin striker Stevan Jovetic and Serbian midfielder Adem Ljajic on the wish-list of some of Europe's top clubs.
And the 37-year-old coach admitted he would go to extremes if Siena managed to pull off what would probably go down as the upset of the season -- stopping Milan from finishing in third.
"I'd learn the Siena club anthem off by heart if they stopped Milan!" he added.
Any hint that Pescara may give Fiorentina a helping hand was kicked into touch earlier this week when the club's president, Daniele Sebastiani, said they will not roll over.
"We beat Fiorentina earlier in the season," Sebastiani told Radio Blu. "On Sunday we will honour the championship."
With a four-point lead on Udinese, Fiorentina have already secured one of two automatic places for next season's Europa League.
Udinese, on the other hand, will be hard pushed to hold on to fifth place. The northerners have a two-point lead on Lazio and face a wounded Inter Milan at the San Siro in one of seven games to be broadcast in Sunday's late slot.
Udinese's solid form in recent months has come in large part down to the goalscoring of veteran striker Antonio Di Natale, who sits second behind Napoli's Edinson Cavani (28) in Serie A's scoring charts with 22 goals.
However Di Natale remains a doubt after suffering a calf injury in a 2-1 win over Atalanta, Udinese's seventh consecutively, last week.
Inter are also desperate to finish what has been an injury-plagued but ultimately woeful season on a high by giving their suffering fans what would be only a 17th win of the campaign.
With Inter out of Europe and set for a finish just above mid-table, Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic told the club's website, inter.it: "This year we played badly, but next year will be our year.
"Having so many injuries played a part in our missing out on Europe, but I hope next year will be better, that new players will come and that we can build an even stronger team."
In the event of defeat for Udinese, Lazio would leapfrog them into fifth if they take all three points from their trip to Cagliari.
If Lazio fail to finish in fifth place, their hopes of a Europa League appearance will hinge on beating city rivals Roma to Italian Cup victory on May 26 at the Olympic Stadium.
Juventus, meanwhile, visit Sampdoria in Saturday's only game looking to finish on a total of 90 points.
The champions hoped last week for the three points that would have kept them on track to beat the record points tally set by them in 2006, a title of which they were later stripped for involvement in match-fixing, while Fabio Capello was coach.
However, while Juve have missed that opportunity, their fans will be buoyed at reports which suggest talks between Antonio Conte and the club, over the coach's future in Turin, have gone smoothly.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Sampdoria v Juventus (2045)
Atalanta v Chievo, Bologna v Genoa (1300), Cagliari v Lazio, Inter v Udinese, Palermo v Parma, Pescara v Fiorentina, Roma v Napoli, Siena v Milan, Torino v Catania (all 1845)
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