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Monday May 14 2012
Udinese do it again

In a four-way race where no-one seemed willing to lead, Rob Paton analyses how Udinese managed to take the prized third place for 2011-12.

Antonio Di Natale looked to be running out of space. Having just knocked the ball past a rooted Juan Pablo Carrizo, he faced an effort to catch up to it before it ran out of play and then to work an angle to finish, with Nicolas Spolli charging back in tandem. If he reached it, could he afford to take a second touch and invite the Argentine closer, and even Carrizo back into play? He’d already missed an easier chance to give the away side a lead, before 30 seconds was on the clock pulling wide from 10 yards out in a one-on-one.

Giving way to instinct, the answer was no, as a burst of pace from the 34-year-old was followed by a flash of brilliance. Reaching the ball with just two yards of turf left, Di Natale instantly jabbed at it with the outside of his right boot to not only dink it over a by-now-sliding Spolli, but also put enough spin on it to see it bounce at enough of an angle to roll over the line.

One of the season’s more graceful of goals, it was as inspired as it was important for Udinese. Facing the joint-third best defence in the League in Catania, the goal was not only Di Natale’s 80th since the start of 2009-10 – accounting for 47 per cent of Udinese’s total in that time – but also the one to ease Lazio, Inter and Napoli out of any contention for third spot. It was a performance that drew comparisons with that of Zico in 1984, who inspired the Zebrette to a 2-0 win away to the Sicilians in equal measure by leading from the front with inspiration.

The Zebrette went into the evening already in prime contention for the final Champions League qualification spot, aware that they needed just a draw from their trip to Sicily to render results from the chasing pack’s games irrelevant. Whilst Di Natale’s extraordinary contribution, both on the night it counted and in front of goal for the previous three seasons now, has turned likelihood into certainty, it is also important to note that even if the club appear to be beneficiaries of purely this and the other contenders’ recent downturn in form, Udinese secure third having conceded 11 goals less than their nearest rival for the position, and only two more than second place Milan.

Indeed, for their ability to score goals, the team still relied upon the back three of Mehdi Benatia, Danilo and Maurizio Domizzi to keep Catania out and on Samir Handanovic to pull off a sharp second-half save. Alejandro Gomez will also argue luck played its part, as he squirmed a first-half penalty wide. However, as the Gazzetta dello Sport remarked: “Beyond the magic of their stars, Udinese deserve their success simply because they played a match to the top of their capability. Guidolin may have been angry with Dusan Basta in the first half, but everything else worked.”

At this stage of the season when positions are decided, as much as the successful club celebrates, those who missed out are left wondering of what might have been. In this case, Lazio in particular will be tinged by regret to see Francesco Guidolin’s side again pip them to the post, having held a top three spot for 19 rounds of the season, including a run of consecutive matches from Weeks 26 to 34. However, they were undone by just three wins in that latter period, including a final three defeats from four that saw them eventually displaced. It was Napoli, rather than Udinese, who then came into prime contention and by Week 37 they only needed two wins from two to immediately return to the competition. Yet, they too collapsed when it was asked of them. Inter, meanwhile, had not been in the top three all season, but even they had an outside shot at qualification this final weekend and can also rightly be left wondering of an alternative table had Andrea Stramaccioni arrived earlier and revitalised a 24-goal Diego Milito sooner.

Yet by the same token, perhaps why Udinese finished the season with four consecutive wins to succeed where this trio did not, was because of their own feeling of regret, for not making it past the third round of qualifying for the Champions League at the very start of 2011-12. For picking up three points in Week 38 to make it a haul of 130 points from the last two seasons combined, Udinese have an immediate and deserved second chance even if, as Francesco Guidolin admits he is tired, more changes could take place before then.

What might have been will also be a thought to have crossed the minds of fans at Genoa and Lecce. Whilst the Salentini eventually finished six points adrift of safety as they lost to Chievo and the Grifone beat Palermo, both will be aware that since the point of Serse Cosmi’s arrival at his favoured club in December, they had picked up more points that five other sides to the end of the season, including Genoa.

It was also an emotional end to the season in Serie A for the number of notable names from the Italian top flight’s recent history to say goodbye. Week 38 of 2011-12 saw Alessandro Nesta, Marco Di Vaio, Gennaro Gattuso, Mark Van Bommel, Clarence Seedorf, Gianluca Zambrotta, Massimo Oddo, Kakha Kaladze, Pippo Inzaghi and Alessandro Del Piero all bid farewell to their clubs, and in most cases, Italian football too. To put into perspective the departure of this 10, they have amassed a total of 3,304 appearances in Serie A between them, have won a combined total of 94 major honours at club level whilst in Italy and have 687 international caps between them, with six of them also members of Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning squad.

Perhaps pertinently, it was three from this unique group who have confirmed they will be playing on next season, albeit elsewhere, who stole the on-pitch show. Del Piero netted a neat goal from a clever finish for Juventus to help confirm their unbeaten League-winning campaign, whilst a lobbed pass from Seedorf set up Inzaghi for a spin, control and finish to win Milan’s match. Whilst the trio will have a combined age of 112 heading into 2012-13, they showed they may still have life yet to live in football.

Whilst winning nothing at club level for the first time since 2002-03 at Ajax, Zlatan Ibrahimovic finishes the season as Capocannoniere to become the first player in Italian top-flight history to do so with two different teams, having accomplished it with Inter in 2008-09.

Think you know your Italian football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's tipster competition - £5,000 monthly.

Have your say...
Udinese are a disgrace for Italian football. Every year they sell their best players and only because of an excellent coach they do well in Serie A after he gets the new players playing well and leave out much better Italian teams from the CL. The FIGC should not allow Udinese to participate in the CL.
on the 29th August, 2012 at 1:07am
For those who don't happy of Udinese qualification in UCL because think it will make worse Serie A's UEFA coefficient, take a look at UEFA's club coeffient page. Look at the fact : this season, Udinese is 4th contributor of coefficient because they progressed well in Europa League. They just behind Napoli, Inter, and AC Milan who are progressed into knockout stage of UCL. They are above Roma and Lazio!
on the 16th May, 2012 at 3:10pm
If you think Udinese are too weak to compete in Europe, look at another fact in UEFA club coefficient: in Season 08/09, they were the highest contributor of the coefficient among Serie A clubs, well above Juventus, Roma, Inter, and Milan.
on the 16th May, 2012 at 3:07pm
The problem is Udinese will sell their best players over the summer, and not quality for the group stage.
on the 16th May, 2012 at 1:14pm
Without any doubt, Udinese deserved that 3rd spot more than anyone else. And they did it with class throughout the season, despite almost succumbing to horrible refereeing in their home game against Napoli. Udinese doesn't need favours! And yet, they still manage to win, and prove themselves year after year, and, they manage to balance their budget. THEY ARE A MODEL ORGANIZATION IN PROFESSIONAL SPORTS! Period. They'll be much better prepared for CL this time around. You'll see.
on the 16th May, 2012 at 6:15am
Italians from the main cities such Milan, Naples and Rome cannot stand that a small team from a small town like Udinese has done better then their own metropolitan team.
I lived in the UK for a long time and as an Italian I've always thought my fellow countrymen have a lot to learn from British football fans!
Nobody in the UK would dream to talk rubbish about how Udinese would not deserve to be in UCL!
We have ended the Serie A in 3rd place SO WE DESERVE IT! Live with it!
Forza Zebrette!
on the 15th May, 2012 at 9:04pm
I am totally happy with Udi taking the 3rd spot. They have had a fantastic season and it would have been nice for them to even win the league. I am an Inter fan and I can admit that we did not deserve 3rd. In fact, I am happy that we even reached EL considering everything that happened this season. So once again, congratulations to Udinese and good luck next year.

To all Juve fans: Please stop your whining and crying about Inter. You just won the title and yet you are still not happy.Pathetic!
on the 15th May, 2012 at 5:04pm
Regarding the co-efficient. Having Napoli and Inter in the Europa League may actually be a blessing. Both EL and CL carry same co-efficient pts. Udinese would be unlikely winners of the Europa League, while Inter and Napoli would seem to have a better chance of winning the EL than the CL.Italy's fall in the rankings is ALSO because of their failings in the Europa League/UEFA Cup over last decade!
on the 15th May, 2012 at 10:06am
Udinese qualifying for the CL is not good for Italy, particularly the coefficient.

Udinese is not determined to establish themselves among the best in Italy and Europe by keeping the best players. Its all about money. Everything else is a bonus.

Udinese buys players on the cheap and sells them for profit. That what they'll keep doing, season after season.

They won't get far in Europe and the sad part is not because Udinese is a weak team, but they will choose not to fight properly in Europe.
on the 15th May, 2012 at 3:03am
You guys are ridiculous. Udinese deserved it, and I'm glad they made it! Inter are a disgrace and should be relegated, forget qualifying for the CL (disclaimer: I'm a Juve fan). Napoli would have been entertaining, but they got their chance last season.

What about the risk that Udinese will flop and affect Italy's coefficient rankings? I couldn't care less. After Farsopoli 2006, the Lega Calcio can vaffunculo. As long as Juve does well, I'm happy.
on the 14th May, 2012 at 11:07pm
Jeezus! You guys are not a pretty sight.
I'd have thought people would warm to a provincial team on a limited budget managing to inch its way to 3rd place in Serie A. I'm from Udine and my nine-year old nephew, who never misses a home match, was out tonight with his dad to join the celebrations, along with other kids, elderly geezers, sporty grandmas and hundreds of black&white balloons.
That's what football is about. These cranky comments show the poor sportsmanship of Italian football fans.
on the 14th May, 2012 at 9:36pm
Udinese deserves.just because people want Napoli,Roma and Inter to be there doesn't mean they should be there.they all sucked and didn't deserve to make it.at least Udinese doesn't win by buying every player they can.
on the 14th May, 2012 at 7:25pm
@NIC
No one is arguing with the fact that Udinese didn't deserve the 3rd spot, in fact they well deserved it, they finished there because they were consistent ,as they say the table doesn't lie. But as soon as they start to play in Europe, to represent Italy they fail miserably , and it's a shame because Inter or Napoli would be much better representatives to Serie A. Anyways, fingers crossed and hopefully this time they'll be more careful and hope they will do well.
on the 14th May, 2012 at 5:45pm
what is everyone upset about?! serie a has 38 games season. a club has to amass as many points as possible by the end of the season calendar to that they get a final placement. udinese got 3rd place two season in a row. its deserved because they did it. if you don't agree, then go kick your own team in the pants and say 'why could'nt you get the appropriate table position to warrant proper placement. whether you like it or not, what's right is right. soccer results matter, so go win games!!!
on the 14th May, 2012 at 4:14pm
We need to get over the Cinderella story of the proverbial underdog because Udinese qualifying for the champions league is not good for Italy. Udinese is not like Napoli who is determined to establish themselves among the best in Italy and Europe by keeping the best players. Udinese buys players on the cheap and then sells them high. In Europe you need the kind of players that Udinese sells every year. They won't get far in Europe and they will do more harm than good to the coefficient.
on the 14th May, 2012 at 1:18pm
I congratulate them wish them well but I can't see them doing Italy any justice in the Champions League if they were to qualify.

They'll probably sell their best players anyway if offers come in the Summer like they did with Sanchez when they could have really done with him against Arsenal... But you never know?
on the 14th May, 2012 at 12:51pm
Absolutely disapointing...

Whats the point of finishing 3rd only to go out in the qualifying stages of the CL ? add insult to injury they went home early in the Europa League. Inter & Napoli would do much better then Udinese thats for sure.
on the 14th May, 2012 at 12:32pm
I couldn't agree more. Italy's co-efficient is set to get worse when Udinese don't even qualify for the champions league proper.

Their squad is too small and if they can't beat an Arsenal team that were on the ropes last time round what hope do they have for qualifying next season?

Perhaps it's a blessing in disguise as Napoli and Inter will be in the Europa league, where Serie A needs some better performances.

Lazio in fourth another joke. How many games have all these teams lost?
on the 14th May, 2012 at 12:15pm
It's just pathetic how people do not appreciate udinese. Why don't you blame lazio, napoli, inter and roma for their incompetence? Udinese just did what they should do, by getting as much points as they could. So why do you call them a disgrace?? Blame the other teams, who you claim to be better than udinese but failed to qualify to the next UCL!
on the 14th May, 2012 at 11:50am
An absolute disaster for Italian soccer! The Serie A needs strong representation in the CL qualifiers and Napoli and Inter could have provided that.

Udinese by players cheap and sells them at high profit. Where does that money go? You need stars to compete in Europe.

Aside from their 2008-09 campaign in the UEFA Cup, they have been a disgrace in Europe. They are an Italian team, not a Greek, Serbian, Polish or Danish club. At least Sampdoria, Parma and Napoli won European competitions.
on the 14th May, 2012 at 10:44am

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