After nine months of intrigue, accusations and points deductions the end of season Lega Pro play-offs have arrived. Over the next few weeks nerves will be shredded, tears will be shed and, for the lucky few, glory will be tasted.
We start in C1A were the four teams involved in the end of term lottery will be Taranto, Carpi, Sorrento and Pro Vercelli. Davide Dionigi’s Taranto side will feel that they should be the ones already promoted to Serie B but a series of points deductions put pay to that possibility. Their opponents in semi-final first leg are Pro Vercelli who under the shrewd guidance of coach Maurizio Braghin, have played arguably the best football in the entire league.
In the build up to Sunday’s game, the two clubs have become embroiled in a war of words in regard to Taranto’s perilous financial state. The team from Puglia are losing money at an alarming rate and rumour has it that even if they do achieve promotion in early June, they may still not be permitted into Serie B; something which Vercelli chief Massimo Secondo was quick to point out a recent press conference. The comments incensed coach Dionigi who told Secondo to shut up and have some respect as the pressure builds up on both teams.
Dionigi seems to be single handedly trying to derail his own teams chances by refusing to deny rumours that he will will leave the club after the play-offs regardless of the result. The 38-year-old tactician has been heavily linked with a move to Bari in the summer with reports also suggesting he could fill the vacant managers seat at Serie A side Siena.
If it’s goals you’re looking for then this may not be the game for you with both sides boasting the best two defences in the division. It looks likely that this game will go down to the wire but one thing that is for certain is that the accusations will continue throughout the summer months.
The other play-off semi-final pits two of the best scoring teams in C1A against each other with Sorrento hosting Carpi in Sunday’s first leg. The Campanian club can point to their semi-final heartbreak 12 months ago when they lost to eventual winners Verona as a vital learning curve ahead of Sunday’s match. On that occasion they were without their talismanic goalscorer Paulinho, this time around the club will look to divisional top scorer Ciro Ginestra to propel the club to Serie B. The teams owner Mario Gambardella is convinced his squad is good enough to cause an upset this time around and goalkeeper Generoso Rossi only wants positive vibes on Sunday announcing: “only people who believe we can go to Serie B should come to the stadium “.
Carpi have only tasted defeat once since the turn of the year and are the division’s top scorers. If they can get a positive result on Sunday they will fancy their chances in the second leg having been granted permission to return to their compact Cabassi stadium after a season of ground sharing with Reggiana. In the two league meetings this season both teams won their respective home games and as with the other semi-final in this division, matters may not be settled until late on in the second game.
The C1B play-offs sees two sides from Sicily, Trapani and Siracusa, alongside Cremonese and Virtus Lanciano. Oscar Brevi’s Cremonese side have not had the best preparations in the run up to Sundays first leg. It was only on Tuesday of this week that they were confirmed as play-off candidates when the team that finished sixth in the final standings, Barletta, finally lost their appeal to get their one point penalty overturned, a point which would have put them ahead of Brevi’s side in the final shake up due to the better head to head record. Brevi can look to positives however as his side boasts the divisions top scorer in Giueseppe Le Noci who has been on a season long loan from Verona.
Cremonese’s opponents in Sunday’s first leg showdown, Trapani, looked odds on for promotion around March but a run of only two wins in their final eight matches (including an astonishing 1-5 home defeat by Portogruaro in week 30) allowed Spezia to grab the automatic entry into Serie B. In the final match of the season, the islanders were in virtual pole position for half an hour before events in Tuscany put paid to their chances. Coach Roberto Boscaglia has to pick his side up and has led by example by committing his future to the club until 2015.
Sicily’s other play-off team are Siracusa, whose larger than life coach Andrea Sottil is nothing if not confident in his own abilities. Recently, the 38-year-old former Atalanta and Udinese defender announced that he was “already good enough to coach in Serie A” explaining that “several top clubs would be glad of his services” as fans began to question his teams’ indifferent end of season form. Sottil will need all his defensive experience on Sunday as his side travels to Lanciano to face a Virtus side high on confidence after a strong end to the season. Striker Leonardo Pavoletti is in a rich scoring vain at present finishing the regular season on 16 goals, just one behind Le Noci.
The two teams met in the penultimate week of the season in Sicily with the islanders running out 1-0 winners. With both sides already assured of a play-off place by the time they met at the end of April, the result will offer little in the way of a pointer as to who will run out winners after what looks like once again being a tight, tense double header. For the record, no team in Italy’s top-flight has confirmed any contact with Sottil!
It’s also play-off weekend in C2. In the A division Rimini host Cuneo whilst Virtus Entella entertain Casale. In C2B, Paganese welcome Vigor Lamezia whilst Chieti travel to Aprilia.
All the stories and reaction from the play-off semi-finals and a look ahead to the finals will be available here in two weeks time
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