Milan left it late to secure Champions League football ahead of a ferocious Fiorentina. Giancarlo Rinaldi wraps up the final round of Serie A action.
It was a night for living dangerously. With the apparently straightforward mission of winning away at already-relegated Siena, Milan teetered on the brink of missing out on next season’s Champions League. Two late goals turned the result around and saw Vice-President Adriano Galliani explode with a delight which he feared might put his heart in danger. Meanwhile, in Pescara, it felt like a punch below the belt to a Fiorentina side which had been daring to dream of pinching third place for much of their match.
Vincenzo Montella’s men had put their result beyond doubt in double quick time. An Adem Ljajic hat-trick, a first Florentine goal for Mati Fernandez and an opportunist finish by Stevan Jovetic – which some speculated would be his last for the club – had already got the job done at the Stadio Adriatico. For most of the evening, they were heading into Europe’s top competition thanks to Claudio Terzi’s goal which had given Siena a shock advantage.
But fate still had its final cards to play. A tangle between Mario Balotelli and former Viola man Felipe saw the referee point to the spot and the former Manchester City striker did what he has done since arriving in January and kept his cool to level the scores. Then Philippe Mexes became a makeshift striker to toe-poke home the winner and send Rossoneri fans into ecstasy.
“We have got 42 points in the second half of season,” said Milan boss Max Allegri, who is still surrounded by rumours he might be moved on. “After coming back so far it was normal that we were a bit tired at the end. Siena fought hard but the boys kept their heads up. I have to thank the players, the club and the fans.”
“When there were six or seven minutes to go I thought we wouldn’t do it,” admitted Galliani. “We had been in third place for a while and it looked like we were going to lose it on the last game. We have had a great season and for the last 30 games we have matched Juventus – we set off with a handicap.”
For the scenes of joy in Siena, there was disappointment in Pescara. Fiorentina fans who had made the trip thought they might have been witnessing a miracle for most of their game. It was only as news of Milan’s comeback filtered through that players and supporters realised it would be Europa League and not Champions League for the club.
“We tried right to the end and we believed we could do it for a while,” admitted Montella. “We are pleased with our season. It was a great duel with Milan which probably gripped fans of other teams. But Allegri’s team had a great second half of the season.”
The outcome may have stung on the night but it should not spoil what he has achieved in Tuscany this year. To take a team which was completely overhauled in the summer to within a whisker of a top three finish is an impressive performance. With Giuseppe Rossi getting his first few minutes of play too, there is plenty to look forward to in Florence.
There will be no future in Naples, however, for Walter Mazzarri. He confirmed after their closing game – a 2-1 defeat by Roma - that he would not be in charge at the San Paolo next year. He insisted that he had no destination already in mind.
“I have come to the end of my time in Naples – they have been four great years,” said Mazzarri. “I might move on or I might take a break. I will see what offers are on the table.” No doubt there will be a few clubs taking an interest after what he has achieved with the Partenopei.
The only other issue to be decided ended up being something of a stroll for Udinese. Against an Inter side which has collapsed like tin cans in a shooting arcade, Antonio Di Natale and company thumped home five to secure their Europa League place. Their form in the final weeks of the season has been the best in the country.
Of course, that adds a little extra juice to the Lazio versus Roma Coppa Italia Final – as if that was required. The winner, apart from crowing rights in the capital, will also walk away with Italy’s last European slot. When they realised they could not achieve that goal via the League, the Biancocelesti folded to a 1-0 defeat against Cagliari in their final clash of the Serie A season.
Elsewhere, Atalanta and Chievo threw off their shackles in a 2-2 draw, Bologna and Genoa kept theirs on in a game without goals and Parma delivered a few breathtaking strikes in a 3-1 victory over Serie B-bound Palermo. There were also a few tears in Torino as Rolando Bianchi said his farewells to the Granata after scoring the goal which secured a draw with Catania. And, on Saturday, Sampdoria completed the most unlikely of doubles by grabbing their second win over Juve this season. Knowing Antonio Conte, he won’t have been happy his boys let their guard down – even in a game with nothing left to say about their season.
The weekend also confirmed the promotion of Verona and Sassuolo to be joined by one other side from the Serie B play-off process. They got a glimpse of what kind of League they will be coming to in the top flight’s final round of games. Spectacular, dramatic, emotional and controversial – welcome to the Serie A party boys.
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