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Sunday May 21 2017
Deserving Crotone

The minnows have battled the odds all campaign and deserve another opportunity in Serie A, writes Nick Valerio

Every season, irrespective of division, there will be a club in the relegation places which makes a late surge to secure their status for another year. Against all odds, it’s Crotone who have given themselves a fighting chance, something no one would have predicted.

Davide Nicola’s soldiers have previous. Last year, the Pitagorici were tipped for demotion, but achieved the unthinkable when promoted to Italy’s top flight. This is testament to the Calabrese spirit, their greatest strength which money can’t buy.

Survival was the primary objective for Crotone. As the season nears its conclusion, to still be talking about this modest outfit and not know where they’ll be playing next year is proof they have defied expectations. Their resources are incomparable to the rest of the league and merely being in contention should be lauded, especially after picking up just two points from the opening 10 rounds.

It’s also fair to say Crotone started the season with a handicap, as the Stadio Scida underwent restructuring work to bring it up to Serie A code. It meant they had to play the first three home games at the Stadio Adriatico in Pescara, with barely 500 people in the stands. They lost to Genoa and Atalanta, drawing with Palermo 1-1. Would home advantage have made a difference?

Momentum is key, and if the Serie A debutants accomplish their goal, they’ve certainly earned it. Since the beginning of April, this resilient and proud group of players have accumulated the joint most points in the league alongside Napoli. This is no mean feat. The run has been timed to perfection, with five wins from the last seven played. To put in to context, Crotone were eight points adrift of Empoli, with the gap now a solitary point with two games remaining.

The 2-1 victory over Inter will quite rightly be cherished and was arguably the catalyst for the potential great escape, but hard-fought draws against Milan, Torino and Sampdoria can also be admired. Each of those four sides have at one stage or another this season harboured European ambitions and it’s Crotone who’ve made their mark, showing they’re no pushovers. Some teams will crumble during the business end of the season, whereas the Pitagorici have embraced the challenge with open arms.

The 18th-placed club have comfortably the lowest wage bill in the division, a reliable barometer for the end of season table. But this hasn’t been used as an excuse. They have extracted every ounce possible. Can the same be said of closest challengers Empoli? Tipped to finish with relative ease in mid-table, Giovanni Martusciello’s men have taken their standing for granted and rested on their laurels.

Crotone have scored more and conceded fewer than the Azzurri. On-loan Diego Falcinelli has struck a respectable 12 goals and at the other end of the pitch they haven’t disgraced themselves, shipping in fewer than a Torino side who sit ninth in the table with Joe Hart between the sticks.

Regular managerial upheaval has destabilised Empoli, but this isn’t alien to the players. Martusciello’s predecessor Marco Giampaolo left last summer and before him Maurizio Sarri departed for Napoli in 2015. The players know the routine, and really, they ought to have enough in their locker to not be one of the three worst sides in the league.

They have the nous and experience through the likes of Manuel Pasqual and Massimo Maccarone, but have found themselves dragged in to a dogfight. The Azzurri should be disappointed even if they do remain afloat and the struggles of this campaign should serve as a lesson to the whole club.

Logic dictates that it’ll be Crotone who are the team to be relegated, but battling is in their nature, and if they can get to the final day of the season with it all to play for, you wouldn’t bet against them picking up a result against Lazio, adding another chapter to a fairy-tale journey of a club operating on a shoestring budget. 

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