Torino, Lazio, Verona keep Europa hopes alive
Torino, Lazio and Verona secured crucial wins on Sunday to make sure the fight for Europa League places will go to the wire in the remaining three games of the Serie A season.
After Omar El Kaddouri's 15th minute opener in Turin, striker Ciro Immobile stretched his league-leading tally to 21 goals for the season on 56 minutes to secure a 2-0 win.
Torino moved up to sixth place and what is, in theory, a virtual Europa League qualifying spot.
With Napoli facing off against Fiorentina in the final of the Italian Cup, the team who finishes sixth is set to be awarded a place in the Europa League irrespective of next week's result in Rome.
Napoli, who sit third, have virtually secured the third and final Champions League place while Fiorentina, eight points adrift in fourth, are five points better off than fifth-placed Inter and nine ahead of Torino with three games remaining.
Torino coach Giampiero Ventura said: "Europe has never been our objective, but now we are starting to believe we can make it happen. The Europa League is within our grasp, but all we can do is take it one match at a time."
Torino, however, are not alone in dreaming of a place in Europe's second tier club competition.
Lazio coach Edy Reja said only two weeks ago he wouldn't bet one euro on his stuttering side sealing their Europa ticket.
But after a 2-0 win at struggling Livorno which moved them up to seventh on the same points as Torino (52) he changed his tune: "We will fight to the last second for a place in Europe."
Verona sit in eighth position on the same points as Torino and Lazio following a 4-0 rout of Catania in the rain-hit northern city.
- Reject Toni makes point -
Veteran striker Luca Toni made up for his recent omission from Italy's World Cup squad by opening the scoring in the sixth minute.
Despite heading home his second on 28 minutes, it was later ruled as an own goal by Catania 'keeper Alberto Frison following review by league officials.
Toni sits second in the Serie A scorer's list with 19 goals, one ahead of Juventus striker Carlos Tevez and two ahead of Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli.
Brazilian midfielder Marquinho and Argentinian Juan Gomez scored Verona's third and fourth goals to secure the win and give Andrea Mandorlini's side a European boost.
Toni was furious at being substituted later in the match by Andrea Mandorlini, and the coach admitted: "In hindsight, perhaps I was wrong to substitute Toni as he is set on winning the top scorer's award."
Parma began the day in sixth but saw their Europa hopes dented by a 1-0 defeat away to Cagliari, where Mauricio Pinilla's 35th minute spot-kick secured the points and the Sardinians' top flight survival.
Parma, who were reduced to 10 men on 53 minutes when Felipe saw red for striking Luca Rossettini in the face are now ninth at one point adrfit of Torino, Lazio and Verona.
Also in the Europa League mix are Milan, who despite a 2-0 reverse to Roma on Friday, sit on the same points as Parma in 10th place.
Sampdoria overcame the sending off of Shkodran Mustafi, which allowed Chievo's Cyril Thereau to put the visitors 1-0 up from the spot on 66 minutes, by scoring two late goals thanks to Eder and Roberto Soriano to snatch a 2-1 win in Genoa.
In Sunday's late game Giuseppe De Luca salvaged a share of the spoils for Atalanta in a 1-1 draw at home to 10-man Genoa.
Genoa took the lead thanks to Paolo De Sceglie on 27 minutes but were down to 10 men six minutes after the restart when Daniele Portanova tripped German Denis in the box.
Denis saw his spot-kick parried by an alert Mattia Perin in the Genoa goal, but the 'keeper could not keep out De Luca's tap-in after parrying Guglielmo Stenadardo's drive in the dying minutes.
Juventus travel to relegation-haunted Sassuolo on Monday and will be expected to restore their eight-point lead on second-placed Roma and take another step towards a third consecutive title under Antonio Conte.
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