Napoli host Champions League decider

Napoli's bid to snatch Serie A's last Champions League place from Lazio and the battle for the remaining Europa League places top the agenda as Italy's top flight draws to a close this weekend.

Napoli host Champions League decider
Football fans wave Italian flags during the Italian Serie A match between Juventus and Napoli on May 23rd 2015. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

While champions Juventus warm up for their Champions League final against Barcelona with an away match at Verona on Saturday, Napoli host Lazio in a must-win clash at the San Paolo late on Sunday.

Lazio's 2-1 defeat to Roma in the city derby last week left them in third but with Rafael Benitez's Napoli three points adrift, and having beaten Lazio earlier this season to claim a head-to-head advantage, the pressure is on the Biancocelesti.

Lazio need just a draw on Sunday evening to secure a third-place finish and a place in the the Champions League playoffs.

Having also lost the Cup final to Juventus to add to the humiliation of their derby defeat to Roma, it would offer a pick-me-up to cap what has been a brilliant second half of the season by Stefano Pioli's men.

Captain Stefano Mauri told Sky Sport: “We deserve to be in the Champions League and we have to get the result against Napoli at all costs.”   

It will be Benitez's last game in charge after club president Aurelio De Laurentiis confirmed on Thursday the Spaniard's departure after two years at the helm.

Although Napoli's only silverware this season was their Italian Super Cup win over Juventus, De Laurentiis quickly paid tribute to the Spaniard.

“Two years ago we were 46th in UEFA's rankings, now we are 20th and ahead of Roma, Milan, Inter, Liverpool and Sevilla,” he added.

“We are the only Italian team to have won two trophies (Cup and Super Cup), only us and Juventus.”

Qualification for next season's Europa League is not so cut and dried.    

On paper, Napoli, Fiorentina and Genoa hold the league's three places although only Fiorentina are currently sure to go through.    

Anything less than a draw at Napoli would see Lazio drop into the Europa League, while Genoa look to be out of the competition after failing to earn the UEFA licence required because their Luigi Ferraris stadium does not meet the norms of European football's governing body.

It has left Sampdoria and Inter Milan with the chance to snatch Serie A's third and final Europa place, although Inter, in particular, will require a healthy dose of luck on the final day when they host Empoli.

Sampdoria, who trail sixth-placed Genoa by four points, desperately need a win against already-relegated Parma but won't be taking Roberto Donadoni's devastated side for granted.

Photo by Paolo Cocco/AFP

SEE ALSO: Parma football club declared bankrupt

Parma may be in Serie B after a season that has seen the former two-time UEFA Cup winners go bankrupt, enter administration and witness bailiffs walk off with equipment from the club's gym and facilities that ended up for sale on eBay.

But Parma have been determined to go down with a fight, Donadoni's men holding Napoli and then Verona to 2-2 draws, albiet at their Ennio Tardini stadium.

Inter, three points adrift of Sampdoria, need to beat Empoli and hope Parma stun Samp if they are to have any chance of joining the Europa League.

Along with fellow Argentinian Carlos Tevez (Juventus), Inter striker Mauro Icardo is hoping to overcome their one-goal deficit to league-leading scorer Luca Toni (Verona) to win the 'Capocannoniere' award.

Former World Cup winner Toni, 38, will become the league's oldest ever top scorer if his 21-goal tally does not come under threat although the evergreen Verona striker is up against Juventus on Saturday.

Icardi said: “Luca Toni and Carlos Tevez have done really well, but seeing as they're facing each other this weekend maybe I'll be able to make the most of it. I hope to get the goals.

“As luck would have it, we have a tiny chance to qualify for Europe and we hope to take advantage of it,” he added.

“We've got one match left and we need to try and get the three points. We have to do as well as we can because you never know what's going to happen.”

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Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.