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Regional Sports News
ROME - Napoli were knocked out of the Europa League quarter-finals by Arsenal on Thursday night, losing against the English side for a second time in a week following another limp performance.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men went into the game off the back of a 2-0 first leg defeat. However, given Arsenal’s dismal recent form on the road, Ancelotti and his players knew they were still in with a shot of taking something from the tie.
Ancelotti himself, following Napoli’s lacklustre away performance, even went as far as saying: “It will be a different environment with our home crowd behind us… I’m confident.”
Ancelotti was not wrong to be assured. The home crowd did indeed turn up in force and drowned out the travelling Arsenal fans for much of the first half.
Crucially, though, Ancelotti’s men failed to do likewise and, while they were not by any means outplayed, they showed very little of the defensive mettle or attacking prowess they have done over the course of the Serie A this season.
A goalkeeping error by young shot stopper Alex Meret error allowed Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette to curl in a wonderful freekick from 30 yards out, an away goal that left Napoli needing four goals of their own to progress.
They did come close through Jose Callejon and Arkadiusz Milik, but ultimately they were unable to break Arsenal's resistance, suffering only their second home defeat of the season and coming up well short over the course of the two legs.
Defender Kalidou Koulibaly apologised to fans after the 1-0 defeat, and said his side needed to exhibit much more desire in their quest to progress.
Arsenal now move on to play Valencia in the semi-finals, while Chelsea will meet Frankfurt on the other side of the draw.
Napoli, meanwhile, will turn their attention back to ensuring second place in the league and hoping for better next year in Europe as their qualification for the Champions League seems all but guaranteed.
ROME - Two goals in three minutes were enough to see Lazio take three points from their tie against Udinese and move to within touching distance of the European qualification spots.
Simone Inzaghi’s men went into the game off the back of a torrid run of form. Having jumped into fifth spot at the end of March, two losses and a draw in their subsequent three league matches saw them slip well off the pace into eighth.
Lazio knew that victory against Udinese was essential if they were to keep their hopes of European football alive, and they were quick to take control of the game.
Felipe Caicedo latched onto a Ciro Immobile through ball in the 21st minute, slotting in at the near post to put his side ahead, before a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic header was turned into his own net by Udinese midfielder Sandro a matter of minutes later.
Udinese were gifted a glorious opportunity to get back into the game in the second half when Kevin Lasagna was brought down by Lulic inside the box.
However, Lazio shot stopper Thomas Strakosha made a fine save from the resulting penalty, beating away Rodrigo De Paul’s effort and ensuring his side held onto their two goal advantage.
The result moves Lazio to seventh, one point between Atalanta in sixth and only three off Milan in fourth.
They host bottom side Chievo this weekend before travelling away to Sampdoria, knowing wins in both matches will be crucial as the Serie A moves towards its conclusion in May.
ROME - Juventus were dumped out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage for the second year running after a rampant Ajax came from a goal down to win 2-1 in Turin.
The two sides went into the game off the back of a one all draw in Amsterdam a week ago. Juventus had a slight advantage having secured the all-important away goal and had the home crowd to urge them on to the semi-finals.
The Old Lady’s odds of progressing got even better 28 minutes in when talisman Cristiano Ronaldo headed in from close range after he was left unmarked in the box for a Juventus corner.
The hosts, however, could do little to stifle Ajax and found their advantage wiped out within six minutes.
Donny van de Beek was played onside by some lackadaisical Juventus defending and had all the time in the world as he controlled a Hakim Ziyech shot and slotted an effort of his own past Wojciech Szczesny to draw his side level.
Ajax continued to push forward, playing some exquisite passing football and dominating a side far more experienced than their own.
The Dutch outfit took the lead in the 67th minute through 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt who showed experience beyond his years as he outmuscled two Juventus defenders to thunder home the winning header.
This sparked delirium amongst the 2,000 travelling Ajax fans who then watched their side comfortably control the final twenty minutes.
In fact, even though Juventus needed two goals of their own to progress, it was Ajax who looked the more threatening side in the closing stages.
A string of fine saves from Szczesny and a close offside against Ziyech to rule out his wonderful effort were all that kept the score line at 2-1, in hindsight a poor reflection of the game.
While Juventus will be disappointed with their efforts, especially given the hysteria surrounding this year’s Ronaldo-led campaign, Ajax’s performance was no fluke.
They have now taken the scalps of both Real Madrid and Juventus, and while they will undoubtedly go into their semi-final match as underdogs yet again, it would be unwise to bet against their youthful exuberance.
Ajax will now come up against either reigning English champions Manchester City or Tottenham.
In the evening’s other match, Manchester United produced a sorry performance as they were outclassed from the off by Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s choice of defence had raised eyebrows before the match, and it wasn’t soon before their frailties were brutally exposed by Lionel Messi.
The Argentinian whipped in two shots from outside the box in the first 20 minutes, before Philippe Coutinho came off the bench to bury the game in the 61st minute with a curling effort from 25 yards.
Barcelona will face either Porto or Liverpool in the competition’s other semi-final.
ROME - SPAL produced a wonderful performance against a weakened Juventus side to beat the soon-to-be champions and delay the Bianconeri’s title celebrations for one more week at least.
Napoli’s draw against Genoa last week meant that Juventus only needed one point from their final seven matches to wrap up a record eighth successive scudetto.
When the sides met earlier this season, Juventus had comfortably come out 2-0 winners and so they would have travelled to SPAL confident of taking home at least one point and the Serie A title.
Things started well for the Turin-based outfit as Moise Kean put the visitors ahead at the half hour mark. It was a rather fortuitous moment, Joao Cancelo’s shot deflecting in off his shins, but Kean didn’t seem to mind as he celebrated what was his sixth goal in as many games for club and country.
However, Juventus’ afternoon took a shock turn for the worse as a resurgent SPAL, who have beaten Roma and Lazio in recent weeks, responded with two second half goals of their own to turn the tie on its head.
Just four minutes after the break, Kevin Bonifazi thundered home a header from a SPAL corner to raise home crowd spirits.
SPAL continued to push, and were rewarded with 11 minutes left on the clock as Sergio Floccari finished off an intricate move, sending the keeper the wrong way as he burst through on goal.
The result is unlikely to change the course of the season, and Juventus are now able to win the Serie A on home soil next week when they entertain Fiorentina.
Napoli, meanwhile, suffered no such setback as they took three points home from their fixture against Chievo.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men were quick to get back into their stride following a sorry midweek display against Arsenal in the Europa League.
Talismanic centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly gave the away side the lead fifteen minutes. The defender benefited from some woeful Chievo defending, and was gifted the easiest of headers to put his side in the lead when left unmarked at the front post, two yards out, from a corner.
Despite coming close on multiple occasions soon after, Napoli were unable to convert their dominance into a greater lead until the 64th minute when top-scorer Arkadiusz Milik made up for some earlier misses with a wonderful effort from 25 yards out.
Napoli then wrapped up the win as Koulibaly secured an unlikely brace by volleying home from a corner.
Chievo did grab a goal back of their own in extra time, but it was too little too late as the Verona based team who have only won once this season were officially relegated to Serie B.
Inter kept up pace with Napoli and consolidated their grip on third place as they also won 3-1 away from home in their fixture against Frosinone. First half-goals from Radja Nainggolan and Ivan Perišić put Inter in control of the fixture.
The Milan side played out a nervy final thirty minutes after some lacklustre defending saw Francesco Cassata curl an effort into the bottom corner from just outside the box, but they sealed the win in extra time through Matías Vecino.
Inter now sit five points ahead of Milan and with six games left to play will be confident of a top 4 finish that would guarantee them a spot in next season’s Champions League.
Milan held onto fourth place as they won a tense encounter against Lazio 1-0, Franck Kessié burying a penalty with just over ten minutes left on the clock to snatch all three points.
Roma capitalised on Lazio’s slip-up to take back fifth place as an Edin Dzeko goal saw them win at home against Udinese by the same margin.
Fourth and ninth place remain separated by only seven points as the hunt for the final European spots hangs finely in the balance.
Elsewhere, Sampdoria kept up their charge for a Europa League place with a 2-0 home victory over Genoa. Torino and Cagliari played out a 1-1 draw, while Parma and Bologna took home a point each from their respective fixtures against Sassuolo and Fiorentina which both ended 0-0.