European places to be decided in Italy

by AFP on May 21, 2011

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With the title long secured and the bottom three already decided, the only outstanding issues in Italy surround the minor European finishes.

Four teams still have something to play for and all eyes will be on their four matches late on Sunday.

The most crucial prize up for grabs is fourth place and the final Champions League qualification position.

It is one that looked set to go right down to the wire with potentially four teams involved, but instead seems almost already decided.

Udinese currently hold that fourth place and need just a draw at home to champions AC Milan to ensure their place in August's play-off round for the group stages of Europe's premier competition.

Lazio need to beat Lecce away and hope highly-motivated Udinese fall against celebratory Milan.

If Udinese drew, a win would suffice for Lazio, but only if it was by at least nine goals, an unlikely scenario.

Lazio coach Edy Reja has already all but admitted that he feels the task is beyond his team.

"We expected something more, especially after what we've done this season," he said earlier this week.

"It's not yet over but on Sunday Udinese need only a point to qualify for the Champions League and Milan have been celebrating for some time.

"All we can do is roll our dice knowing that we've had an amazing season and we've already achieved our original aim of qualifying for the Europa League."

However, Udinese boss Francesco Guidolin is not taking any chances and insists that avoiding defeat to the best team in the league can hardly be considered a formality.

"On Sunday we will be engaged in overcoming the highest obstacle given we are playing Milan, the best team in the league," said Guidolin.

"I don't agree with those who say we've almost arrived at our objective and that we don't have any more obstacles to overcome.

"Of course we're in good shape and we'll do our best to combat Milan but we're not taking anything for granted.

"I repeat, the team coached by (Massimiliano) Allegri is the toughest adversary we could have."

In any event it is perhaps surprising that the unfancied pair are playing for such high stakes while two far more illustrious teams are playing for a pittance in comparison.

The only other undecided element in the league is who finishes sixth and takes the last Europa League spot.

Whoever misses out on the Champions League between Udinese and Lazio is guaranteed a Europa League finish, alongside Cup finalists Palermo.

Which leaves Roma and Juventus squabbling over scraps.

Roma are in pole position and need only avoid defeat at home to relegated Sampdoria, while Juve must beat Napoli - guaranteed a third place finish - and hope for a Roma loss.

But it is a measure of both teams' abject failure this season that having begun the campaign aiming for the title, they have been reduced to a straight battle for sixth place, with the losers missing out on Europe altogether.

It is perhaps telling that Juve seem already to have set their sights on next season with the news this week that Andrea Pirlo is on the verge of joining the Old Lady of Turin after being released by Milan.

It seems the Turin giants have already given up on this season and have thrown their efforts already into preparing for the next campaign.

As their former player and UEFA president Michel Platini said: "Things can only get better, because they can't get any worse."

Fixtures

Sunday

Bologna v Bari, Brescia v Fiorentina, Cagliari v Parma, Genoa v Cesena, Inter Milan v Catania, Palermo v Chievo (all 0200 AEST Monday), Juventus v Napoli, Lecce v Lazio, Roma v Sampdoria, Udinese v AC Milan (all 0445 AEST Monday)