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Soccer: Acrimony, concern in Italy after Euro exits

Napoli out despite beating Arsenal 2-0, Juve lose in Turkey

12 December, 17:00
Soccer: Acrimony, concern in Italy after Euro exits (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, December 12 - There was concern and acrimony in Italy on Thursday after Juventus and Napoli both exited the Champions League at the group stage, leaving AC Milan as Italy's only survivor in Europe's premier club competition.

Even Milan's qualification for the knockout round was marred by clashes between fans before their 0-0 draw with Ajax Amsterdam in which six people were injured on Wednesday, including three Dutch fans who were stabbed.

One of the Ajax fans is in a critical condition in hospital after suffering knife wounds to the stomach in the latest in a long series of incidents of violence to hit Italian soccer in recent years. There are concerns on the sporting front too, as Italian clubs have struggled in European competition in recent years, with the exception being Inter Milan's victory in the Champions League in 2010. "I saw the images of violence yesterday in Milan," said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, who has his sights set on next year's World Cup.

"We are behind and we all have to realise this. I wouldn't like the federation or UEFA or FIFA one day to say Italian clubs must not play in Europe any more. "It's a low point for our football. I'm not saying that, the statistics are.

"From a selfish point of view, it would have been good for me for the Italian teams to progress in Europe to give my players more international experience". Milan managed to hang on for a 0-0 draw qualify for the knockout stage in second place in Group H, despite being in 10 men for most of Wednesday's match. Milan captain Riccardo Montolivo was sent off in the middle of the first half and keeper Christian Abbiati kept the seven-time Italian champions' hopes alive with a number of good saves.

They finished second with nine points, four behind group winners Barcelona and one more than Ajax. Qualification should give some respite to Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri, whose side are struggling in Serie A as they trail leaders Juventus by 22 points in ninth place.

Italian champions Juve, meanwhile, cried injustice after they were turfed out with a 1-0 defeat at Galatasaray in their final Group B match. The game resumed from the 31st minute on Wednesday after being abandoned on Tuesday due to a heavy fall of snow and hail.

Although the weather was slightly better on Wednesday, the pitch was extremely heavy after all the snow that landed on it and it was difficult to play on. "This elimination is unjust in my opinion. We tried to have it postponed, said Juve boss Antonio Conte.

"In these conditions, it wasn't soccer. We didn't play on a field, but on a bog". Former Inter Milan playmaker Wesley Sneijder struck five minutes from time on Wednesday to seal the Turkish side's qualification for the knockout stage of Europe's premier club competition. Juve finished the group in third place and will now enter the round of 32 of the continent's secondary competition, the Europa League. The final of this year's Europa League is at the Juventus Stadium.

Napoli are also into the Europa League draw despite beating Arsenal 2-0 in their last Group F game and finishing joint top on points with the London club and German side Borussia Dortmund.

Napoli, Arsenal and Dortmund all amassed 12 points from their six group games, but the Italian side missed out on qualification due to complicated calculations regarding the head-to-heads. Napoli needed to win by three goals Wednesday to be sure of going through. It was all the more painful as they were set to qualify until Dortmund scored a late winner to triumph 2-1 at Olympique Marseille. "Not going through is incredible. It is an injustice, really," said Napoli's Argentina forward Gonzalo Higuaín, who scored against Arsenal.

"Going out with 12 points, winning four games in such an immensely difficult group with two sides as strong as Arsenal and Dortmund, when you see teams going through with only one or two wins in other groups, with six or seven points, it's disappointing. "Now we've got to look forward to the Europa League, Serie A and the Italian Cup. "Our aim now is to win the Europa League. It's a trophy and it is very important for us".