MILAN: Inter Milan survived a dramatic end to their Serie A campaign on Sunday to secure a Champions League spot for next season, while Atalanta will make their debut in Europe’s top club competition.
Leading 2-1 in the 89th minute against an Empoli team fighting relegation, Inter’s defence was in disarray as Danilo D’Ambrosio knocked an Empoli cross against his own crossbar, and soon after Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was forced into a vital save.
When Empoli’s goalkeeper went up for a corner and Inter counterattacked, Marcelo Brozovic scored from the halfway line into an empty net and Inter seemed secure. But more drama was to come as the video assistant referee ruled the goal out because Empoli’s keeper was fouled as he hurried back to his goal and had Keita Balde the scorer of Inter’s first goal sent off.
Empoli charged forward again, forcing Hamdanovic to save a header in the eighth minute of injury time but Inter held on for a 2-1 win with the second goal from Radja Nainggolan to secure Champions League football for a second straight year.
Four teams had been fighting for the last two Italian Champions League spots on Sunday. All won their games as Atalanta took third and Inter fourth, but none had it easy.
Atalanta went a goal down to Sassuolo early on but fought back to win 3-1 after Sassuolo had Domenico Berardi sent off for his part in a brawl.
AC Milan fluttered in and out of fourth position throughout the evening thanks to goals elsewhere and their struggles with SPAL in a 3-2 win sealed by two goals from Franck Kessie. However, Inter’s tenacity and Atalanta’s comeback meant that Milan had to settle for fifth a point behind Inter and Atalanta and the Europa League.
Roma finished in sixth. They had started the day as outside contenders and stayed that way despite an 89th-minute goal from Diego Perotti securing a 2-1 win over Parma. That marked the 616th and last appearance in a Roma shirt for midfielder Daniele de Rossi, who leaves the club after 18 seasons.
Next season Roma will be out of the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14, while Milan’s wait to return to the Champions League enters a sixth season. Further back, Torino beat Lazio 3-1 to secure seventh.
Because their ground is being redeveloped, Atalanta had to cede home advantage and play at Sassuolo where they quickly fell behind.
Duvan Zapata levelled before half-time. After Sassuolo lost their scorer Berardi, Atalanta comfortably sealed third as goals by Alejandro Gomez and Mario Pasalic completed the win.
“It’s been an extraordinary season,” Atalanta president Antonio Percassi told Sky Sport. “My first hug was for [coach Gian Piero] Gasperini, for a lifetime. It’s already a given that he’ll still be here next season.”
Milan took a two-goal lead at SPAL, with goals by Hakan Calhanoglu and Kessie, but Francesco Vicari and Mohamed Fares replied.
Meanwhile at the San Siro, after a goal-less first half, Inter brought on Balde. The striker broke the deadlock with a solo goal six minutes later, earning a yellow card for ripping off his shirt in celebration.
The home team had a chance to increase their lead when Mauro Icardi tumbled over Empoli goalkeeper Bartlomiej Dragowski. After a delay for video review, Icardi missed the penalty.
A few minutes later in Ferrara, Kessie rolled in a penalty to put AC Milan back in the lead against SPAL.
Back at the San Siro, Salih Ucan’s low cross from the right reached Hamed Traore unmarked in front of goal and he levelled to lift Empoli out of the relegation places and push Inter out of the top four.
Five minutes later, Nainggolan changed that when he pounced on a rebound to put Inter ahead and doom Empoli as Genoa stayed up on their superior head-to-head record after earning a valuable point in a 0-0 draw with Fiorentina.
Earlier on Sunday, Massimiliano Allegri ended his Juventus career in disappointing fashion as the champions were undone by two late strikes at Sampdoria to finish the Serie A season with a five-match winless streak.
Despite a poor final few weeks they still finished 11 points ahead of second-placed Napoli, who ended their underwhelming campaign beaten 3-2 at Bologna on Saturday.
“I feel good because I ended five incredible years by winning the title … tomorrow a new era begins,” Allegri told broadcaster DAZN after the 2-0 defeat.
He leaves having also won four Italian Cups and re-established the Old Lady as a force in Europe, reaching two Champions League finals and signing Cristiano Ronaldo last summer.
“I’ll come back to work when I have the opportunity … I need to find a team with which I can enjoy myself and do a good job,” he added.
Sampdoria held Juventus at bay before Gregoire Defrel scored in the 84th minute off a neat one-two with Manolo Gabbiadini. Gianluca Caprari curled a free-kick into the net in added time.
Sampdoria’s 36-year-old striker Fabio Quagliarella failed to add to his 26 goals but still finished as the Serie A top scorer, three ahead of Zapata.
(Tabulated under played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points):
Juventus 38 28 6 4 70 30 90
Napoli 38 24 7 7 74 36 79
Atalanta 38 20 9 9 77 46 69
Inter Milan 38 20 9 9 57 33 69
AC Milan 38 19 11 8 55 36 68
AS Roma 38 18 12 8 66 48 66
Torino 38 16 15 7 52 37 63
Lazio 38 17 8 13 56 46 59
Sampdoria 38 15 8 15 60 51 53
Bologna 38 11 11 16 48 56 44
Sassuolo 38 9 16 13 53 60 43
Udinese 38 11 10 17 39 53 43
SPAL 38 11 9 18 44 56 42
Parma 38 10 11 17 41 61 41
Cagliari 38 10 11 17 36 54 41
Fiorentina 38 8 17 13 47 45 41
Genoa 38 8 14 16 39 57 38
Empoli 38 10 8 20 51 70 38
Frosinone 38 5 10 23 29 69 25 Chievo 38 2 14 22 25 75 17