Rome (AFP) – It is a picturesque town 100 km south of Rome and notorious for high levels of pollution, but little Frosinone play the Serie A kingmakers on Saturday when Roma battle Napoli for runners-up spot and a sure Champions League place.
Despite Juventus securing a record-equalling fifth successive crown last month, there is still plenty at stake in Italy’s top flight with Champions League and Europa League places up for grabs on the final weekend of action.
Frosinone have already been relegated along with Verona to Serie B, and for the sceptics there is arguably one more reason to believe they won’t rise to the occasion at Napoli’s San Paolo stadium on Saturday.
Frosinone coach Roberto Stellone once played for Napoli and on Thursday admitted: “I will always support Napoli. What an atmosphere at the San Paolo!”
Yet Napoli, sitting second with a two-point lead on Roma in third, are already firmly in the driving seat and heading towards an estimated 30m euros jackpot generated by qualifying directly to the competition’s group stages.
If Maurizio Sarri’s men needed extra motivation ahead of an expected sell-out at the imposing San Paolo, they need look no further than Gonzalo Higuain.
The Argentine striker is only two goals short of equalling AC Milan and Sweden striker Gunnar Nordahl’s 1950 record of 35 goals in a 20-team, three-points-for-a-win season.
A hat-trick would see Higuain make history, and help soothe the pain of coming so close to a first scudetto since the heyday of Diego Maradona in 1990.
Napoli are supposedly under a strict media boycott following disagreements with sections of the Italian press began last month, shortly before Higuain was handed a three-match ban for pushing the referee in a 3-1 loss at Udinese.
– ‘Big effort’ –
But Spanish ‘keeper Pepe Reina broke the silence to underline the importance of their Champions League “dream”.
“We’re only one win away from achieving our dream,” said Reina. “We need one more big effort so we can repay the fans who have been at our side throughout the season.”
Napoli finished third last year, but failed to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition after a play-off defeat to Athletic Bilbao.
This summer, it could be Roma’s turn to taste that chastening experience.
The Giallorossi will be without influential midfielder Diego Perotti for Saturday’s clash with AC Milan at the San Siro, where the hosts need to win to have any chance of European football after the summer.
Roma’s Greek defender Kostas Manolas said: “We know it will be difficult against Milan, because they need points. But we are a top side and, as usual, we’re going there to win.
“Napoli have an easier game than us, but we’ll fight to finish second.”
Seven-time European champions Milan have sunk so low they are now battling Sassuolo for a sixth place finish and a chance to qualify for the Europa League.
Although Milan can secure a place in Europe’s second-tier competition with victory over Juventus in the May 21 final of the Italian Cup, they are not favourites.
If holders Juve retain the Cup, the competition’s Europa League spot will go to the sixth place finishers and Sassuolo, who host Inter Milan on Saturday, are one point ahead of Milan, in seventh.
A third team will be relegated on Sunday, and Carpi’s bid to beat the drop has been compounded by a bizarre war of words that started when Palermo chief Maurizio Zamparini made premature declarations last week.
“Thanks to everyone in their efforts to save the club (from relegation),” said Zamparini.
It came a week early, and Carpi didn’t take to the gaffe too kindly.
Amid suspicions Verona could roll over and ease Palermo to victory, Carpi chief Stefano Bonacini has warned league and federation officials of “possible irregularities”.
“We demand that the maximum attention is paid to the Palermo v Verona game,” he said.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Juventus v Sampdoria (1500), AC Milan v Roma, Napoli v Frosinone, Sassuolo v Inter Milan (1845)
Chievo v Bologna, Empoli v Torino, Genoa v Atalanta (all 1600), Lazio v Fiorentina, Palermo v Verona, Udinese v Carpi (all 1845)
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