Antonio Di Natale proved the difference on the night as Udinese beat injury-hit Lazio in tense circumstances to catch them, Napoli and Inter in joint third place.
This was to all intents and purposes a Champions League play-off between third and joint fourth going into the weekend. Neither side was in great form after the strain of the Europa League took its toll and had numerous injury problems.
Lazio had Antonio Candreva on a ban plus the injured Hernanes, Stefan Radu, Senad Lulic, Miroslav Klose, Marius Stankevicius, Cristian Brocchi and Stephen Makinwa. Modibo Diakite joined the list during the warm-up, making way for Javier Garrido, who sent Lionel Scaloni into defence. Udinese missed Emmanuel Badu, Mauricio Isla, Andrea Coda, Damiano Ferronetti and the suspended Antonio Floro Flores, but Maurizio Domizzi and Dusan Basta shook off injuries to start.
In the second minute Lazio rather desperately cleared from Diego Fabbrini and Kwadwo Asamoah’s penalty appeals were waved away. Federico Marchetti flew to palm away a curling Antonio Di Natale free kick, while Alejandro Gonzalez completely mistimed his volley from a Stefano Mauri cross.
Udinese had a great chance on 18 minutes when Lazio youth product Giampiero Pinzi unleashed a screamer from distance that dipped just over the bar.
Di Natale also scuffed a shot from the D when the ball took a strange bobble. Another Pinzi long-range attempt had more curl and less power, but this time Marchetti flapped it out of the far top corner.
Marchetti fumbled a cross and was fortunate no Udinese players were able to tap into the empty net. The Lazio goalkeeper palmed away a deflected Basta cross and Almen Abdi couldn’t get enough power to his shot.
Yet more bad news for Lazio, who lost Francelino Matuzalem to a knee injury and brought on Lorik Cana. Giuseppe Biava then failed to recover from a knock to his knee and Lazio were forced into a second change in the first 45 minutes. Strangely, Diakite was introduced despite the fact he had pulled out of the warm-up.
Lazio had a splendid scoring opportunity before half-time, as Abdoullay Konko sprinted down the right and crossed for Rocchi’s header, fingertipped out from under the bar by Samir Handanovic.
Just 25 seconds after the restart, Asamoah’s screamer swerved just wide. Di Natale fired a volley from the outside edge of the six-yard box, but it was over the bar as it came off his shin.
Udinese remained the more attacking side and a strange Basta strike looped inches past the far top corner of the net off the outside of his right boot. Marchetti smothered an Asamoah daisy-cutter and the Friulani finally found a breakthrough.
Di Natale peeled away from Andre Dias and came sliding in with a splendid right-foot volley from six yards on Domizzi’s cross from the left.
Lazio were now forced to come out of their defensive shell and threw on giant striker Libor Kozak, but Roberto Pereyra pulled back from the by-line for Di Natale to drill wide. Kozak knocked down a long ball for Cana to shin over the bar and Marchetti came tearing out of the box to clear from Torje colliding with the Romanian to get a knock in the ribs, but was able to continue.
Marchetti went up for a Lazio corner kick and was close to getting his head to it, but with the goalkeeper halfway up the field Udinese went on the counter-attack and Pereyra was able to deposit into an empty net.
Lazio were livid and a scuffle broke out at the final whistle, as they heard a whistle from the crowd and stopped playing. Andre Dias was particularly furious and was sent off for his protests, while play was halted for several minutes as the referee tried to restore calm amid absolutely chaotic scenes on the touchline. The final whistle did eventually go after Scaloni refused to leave the referee alone and was booked, while he then had to be dragged off the field by teammate Cristian Ledesma.
Sent off: Dias 94 (L)