x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Champions League spot not cut and dried for Sampdoria

Sampdoria, who reached a European Cup final in the last year, 1992, before the competition became the Champions League, lead Palermo by two points.

Special play-offs for a last place in the Champions League are more and more popular in European leagues. Sometimes, they just happen by chance. Like in England, where Tottenham Hotspur's penultimate match of the Premier League turned into a joust for whether they or Manchester City would go into Europe's senior club competition. Spurs won, and away from home, which may be taken as an encouraging precedent for fourth-placed Sampdoria, who travel to Palermo today in a similar situation.

Sampdoria, who reached a European Cup final in the last year, 1992, before the competition became the Champions League, lead Palermo by two points. If they maintain an advantage in the next two games over the Sicilians, Sampdoria will go into the final pre-qualifying round of the Champions League in August. Yet Sampdoria, who have five wins on the trot, should beware. Palermo's home record is formidable. Milan have already lost there, as have Fiorentina and Juventus, and no visiting team have taken away three points.

The ageless Fabrizio Miccoli, spearhead of Palermo's attack, has five goals from his last four matches and now reluctantly harbours the certainty he is not in national coach Marcello Lippi's plans for South Africa, which may prove a further spur to his good form. "It is a match-point day," Gigi Del Neri, the Sampdoria coach, said at a press conference. "Palermo stand between us and giving our fans what they deserve, which is a run in the Champions League."