Serie A giants Inter suffer horror ending to season
Serie A giants Inter Milan were left among the league's biggest losers after a final, dramatic day of action caused a number of surprises in Italy's top flight.
Juventus, as widely expected, dominated the campaign to defend the title and claim a 29th Scudetto, while Napoli's runner-up spot secured the league's second automatic place in the Champions League.
The battle for third and the final place in Europe's premier club competition, via a preliminary round, went down to the wire but was snatched by AC Milan, who finished two points ahead of Fiorentina after a controversial penalty award in a decisive 2-1 win away to Siena.
Failing to qualify for the Champions League -- and a first appearance since 2009-2010 -- was all the more painful for Fiorentina given their 5-1 win away to relegated Pescara.
Milan, as Fiorentina later complained, were only handed a lifeline after Siena's Dias Felipe tugged at Mario Balotelli's shirt.
The striker won the penalty, got up to level from the spot and three minutes later French defender Phillipe Mexes bundled home Milan's winner to save their season and break Fiorentina's hearts.
"It was disappointing for our dream to end like that. We have regrets, especially when you see Milan were gifted a penalty," said Fiorentina midfielder Manuel Pasqua.
Whether Milan's Houdini-like escape is enough to save Massimiliano Allegri's coaching job at the San Siro remains to be seen.
Following a huge summer clear-out at the club, the Italian did well to drag Milan back from the abyss of their worst ever start to a Serie A campaign but question marks remain over his future.
Yet Allegri's woes were nothing compared to those of Inter Milan coach Andrea Stramaccioni.
With 16 wins and as many defeats after 38 games, Inter endured a humiliating finale in the shape of a 5-2 defeat at home to Udinese.
Udinese's win was motivated by their bid to hold on to fifth and claim an automatic Europa League spot, but Inter had little left to play for.
The Nerazzurri fell out of contention for Europe last month but have been decimated by injuries to key players, such as Diego Milito, Rodrigo Palacio and Japan fullback Yuto Nagatomo.
"That's been the cause of lots of our problems and as seasons go it's been pretty cursed," said Nagatomo, who only just returned to the fray following problems with his knee.
Fans had demonstrated their frustration at the San Siro on Sunday where the hard-core Curva Nord (North Stand) unveiled a banner which read: "We want a club with serious plans. We won't put up with another season like this."
The message was clear but it may take a while to get through. Inter were 1-0 down in the first minute to a Giampiero Pinzi goal and by the hour mark were 4-1 in arrears.
In the end, Inter -- the last Italian club to win the Champions League, in 2010 under Jose Mourinho -- finished ninth on 54 points, 33 behind Juventus.
Stramaccioni's straight-talking manner at the start of the season, when Inter were among the frontrunners, led to comparisons with Mourinho.
He is only 37 years old and despite still being without his official coaching licence is believed to have the support of club president Massimo Moratti.
If he does hold on to his job, fans will expect a far more consistent performance from Inter and Stramaccioni is confident they can bounce back.
"I think Moratti has very clear ideas about how to rebuild and from tomorrow he'll be working on that," said the coach.
"The most important thing we can do now is turn the page on a very negative season in which all sorts of things have happened."
Lazio's final game of the season was also a disappointment, a 1-0 defeat to Cagliari which dropped them to seventh, one place behind city rivals Roma.
For both clubs, their Italian Cup final next week carries extra importance, with the winner securing a coveted place in the Europa League.
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