MILAN (Reuters) - Lazio and Inter Milan will be involved in a dramatic clash for Italy’s final Champions League group spot when they meet in a match worth millions of euros on Sunday.
Lazio currently occupy the fourth and final Italian place in next season’s group stage while Inter are three points behind them in fifth with the fixture list having thrown the pair together on the final day of the season for what is effectively a playoff.
Inter are desperate to end a six-season absence from Europe’s showcase competition which they won in 2010 under Jose Mourinho. Their last participation was in 2011-12 when they lost to Olympique de Marseille on away goals in the round of 16.
Inter and Lazio drew 0-0 in their first meeting of the season, meaning that if Inter win on Sunday, they will sneak above Lazio on their head-to-head record.
Any other result will send Lazio straight into the group stage where they can expect to amass a fix minimum payment of over 12 million euros plus considerably more from the distribution of television and marketing revenue.
Lazio could have clinched their place last week, but were held to a 2-2 draw at relegation-threatened Crotone despite taking an early lead.
“It’s a big missed opportunity,” said midfielder Senad Lulic. “We deserve the Champions League, it would be a shame to throw it all away now.”
The Champions League was the very minimum Luciano Spalletti expected when he became Inter’s 10th coach in seven years since Mourinho before the start of the season.
Inter led the Serie A table in December, but have been exasperatingly inconsistent since then.
A shock 2-1 defeat at home to Sassuolo last Saturday, which Spalletti said left his players distraught, appeared to have ended their chances but they were let off the hook by Lazio’s result at Crotone the following day.
Tension between the two clubs has been raised following media reports that Lazio defender Stefan de Vrij will join Inter when his contract expires at the end of June.
“Giving news like that ten days from the end of the season and a week before a direct clash is avoidable,” said Lazio’s sporting director Igli Tare. “It could’ve been done at the end of the season or even weeks ago.”
“I don’t know if it was the club or an agent but it is something I would not have done. This lad gave us so much over the years and deserves to leave with respect and the applause of the fans.”
Juventus have already wrapped up a seventh successive title while Napoli and AS Roma have taken the other two Champions League places.
At the bottom, five teams, separated by only two points, are battling to avoid following Verona and Benevento into Serie A.
Crotone (35 points), who pulled off a great escape last season, currently occupy the third relegation spot and have a tough trip to Napoli.
Of the other candidates, SPAL (35) host Sampdoria, Cagliari (36) visit Atalanta, Udinese (37) host Bologna and Chievo (37) entertain Benevento.
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty