Sampdoria boosted their chances of staying in Serie A on Saturday after prevailing 1-0 in a relegation derby with local rivals Genoa, who missed a stoppage-time penalty and are now staring the drop in the face.
Abdelhamid Sabiri struck a potentially huge blow in the race for top-flight survival when he forced home the only goal of the game 24 minutes into a fraught clash at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
Sampdoria were saved in the dying moments by goalkeeper Emil Audero, who pushed away Genoa captain Domenico Criscito’s spot-kick to spark taunts of “Serie B! Serie B!” from the Samp supporters as both Audero and Criscito broke down in tears for very different reasons.
“Those tears at the end just came to me, I tried to hold them back,” said Audero.
“It’s truly a dream because today we were playing for our destiny, let’s be honest… These points give us a bit of breathing room.”
The strike from Morocco-born Sabiri, who has represented Germany at under-21 level, and Audero’s save pushed Samp eight points clear of their local rivals, who sit just inside the drop zone level on 25 points with Salernitana.
How Salernitana, who have a game in hand, get on at Atalanta on Monday will be key to Samp’s hopes of staying up as the southern side are on a run of three straight wins and pushing for what would be a miraculous escape after sitting bottom of the league for most of the season.
Genoa meanwhile are in deep trouble and face the increasingly real prospect of playing in Serie B for the first time since 2007.
Alexander Blessin’s side, taken over by American backers 777 Partners in September, have to play Juventus and Napoli before hosting Bologna in their final match of the season.
They are three points behind 17th-place Cagliari, who stayed firmly in the relegation fight after first-half goals from Antonin Barak and Gianluca Caprari consigned them to a 2-1 home loss against Verona earlier on Saturday.
The Sardinian team pulled a goal back in the 57th minute through a superb free-kick from Joao Pedro but lost for the seventh time in eight games and face both Salernitana and bottom team Venezia in a tight run-in.
Napoli secure Champions League
Napoli effectively secured a place in the Champions League by hammering Sassuolo 6-1, with Dries Mertens hitting a brace in a display which boosted spirits in Naples after falling away in the title race.
Luciano Spalletti’s side are third, four points behind league leaders AC Milan who host Fiorentina on Sunday.
Napoli crashed in four goals in the first 21 minutes through Kalidou Koulibaly, Victor Osimhen, Hirving Lozano and Mertens to secure the points against a flat Sassuolo.
Mertens netted again nine minutes after the break at a sparsely-populated Stadio Diego Armando Maradona before Amir Rrahmani made it six with 10 minutes remaining.
Only 20,000 fans showed up after two awful recent defeats to Fiorentina and Empoli—the latter coming after throwing away a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes—all but ended their bid for a first league title since 1990.
“In my nine years of being here, this was the most disappointing… Next season we can really go for it, but only if we have our heads in the right place.” said Mertens to DAZN.
The Belgian is out of contract but wants to stay at the club where he has become so popular fans have nicknamed him ‘Ciro’, a common Neapolitan name.
Also important for Napoli is the 12-point gap between themselves and Roma, who started the day fifth but were knocked down a spot by Francesco Acerbi’s looping last-minute winner in Lazio’s 4-3 triumph at Spezia.
Jose Mourinho’s Roma have four games left to play beginning with Bologna on Sunday and the maximum they can reach is Napoli’s current tally of 70 points.
Even if Napoli lose all three of their remaining fixtures and Roma win all four of theirs, the two draws between the two sides and Napoli’s far superior goal difference make it almost impossible for Roma to overtake their rivals.