Chase for third brings out plenty of erratic behaviour in Serie A

RESULTS Sat 28 Apr Palermo 1-1 Catania, Cagliari 0-0 Chievo, AS Roma 2-2 Napoli Sun 29 Apr Bologna 3-2 Genoa, Siena 1-4 AC Milan, Novara 0-4 Juventus, Lecce 1-2 Parma, Atalanta 2-0 Fiorentina, Inter 2-1 Cesena, Udinese 2-0 Lazio.

With just five points between third and seventh heading into the weekend’s fixtures as the race for Serie A’s third and final Champions League spot intensifies, anxiety was always likely to be at a premium. Sure enough, from Rome to Udine, there were some surreal moments.

The barmiest came in the Sunday evening showdown at the Friuli stadium, where the two sides to have made most of the running for that coveted third spot – Udinese and Lazio – went head to head.

For a long time things were flat, with neither team showing great desire to return early for pre-season training in order to prepare for the Champions League qualifying round. Udinese talisman Antonio Di Natale scored the decisive goal on 69 minutes, with Roberto Pereyra adding a second in the dying seconds.

The away team immediately kicked off – but not in the traditional, centre-circle-based sense. The Lazio players had a heard a whistle and promptly stopped chasing a long clearance into their half. But the noise had come from the stands, and the ensuing confusion enabled Pereyra to sprint down the touchline and score from a tight angle.

Lazio goalkeeper Federico Marchetti had fallen to his knees in despair at hearing the “phantom” whistle and when he saw that the referee was waving play on; was unable to get back in time to cover his line.

He did, however, find a good change of pace to join in with the touchline melee, where there were unsurprisingly few cool heads, with the Lazio camp fuming at this perceived injustice.

Andre Dias was shown a straight red card, the club ‘suits’ - who for some unfathomable reason are allowed on the bench - got involved in a bout of pushing and shoving, while Lionel Scaloni got up close and personal with the fourth official.

Further sanctions will no doubt follow after Marchetti was seen to push the referee, who was attempting to explain to an irate bunch of troubled souls that there was little he could do, simply because he hadn’t blown his whistle.

The Lazio players wanted the goal ruled out and the final ten seconds resumed with a drop ball in the middle of the pitch – and it seemed for a moment that the referee was going to oblige but stood by the ruling that only the man in charge can bring the game to a halt.

Napoli are currently sat in third and have the edge over their rivals thanks to a superior head-to-head record and arguably more favourable fixtures, but they could have held a more substantial advantage.

They looked to be cruising to victory at AS Roma, where they had the full backing of most of the Olympic Stadium as the home fans turned their back on their own team.

However, with the clock ticking down and the away side 2-1 up and looking like extending their lead, Roma substitute Fabio Simplicio scored an unlikely equalizer, before haring off into the stands to hug his wife and child – and it wasn’t as if they were sitting in the first row.

It was so off-kilter that even the locals stopped verbally abusing Luis Enrique for a moment to enjoy the spectacle, but at the final whistle the Curva Sud – home to the diehard support – demanded that Francesco Totti follow his crest-fallen team-mates over for a good dressing down, before urging the captain to have the coach sacked forthwith: cue quick exit.

Weirdness of a different kind was unfolding at the San Siro, where Inter had not so long along seemingly given up any hope of getting into Europe at all when Andrea Stramaccioni was promoted from the youth team to replace Claudio Ranieri.

But the coach, who is a couple of years younger than Javier Zanetti, has overseen a run of six games unbeaten, culminating in a 2-1 win over Cesena.

However, the Nerazzurri have the toughest fixture list ahead, with a trip to Parma on Wednesday evening, a derby – a nice little quirk considering AC Milan are trailing Inter’s least favourite club, Juventus, at the top - and then a trip to Lazio.

There is little time to settle nerves with another midweek round looming and with Napoli, Udinese, Inter and Lazio level on 55 points, the chase for third looks guaranteed to bring out plenty of more erratic behaviour.

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