Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 18 May 2009

Europe: The Final Countdown (Part 3)

Italy / Serie A

The title race is all over in Italy as Jose Mourinho's Inter side sealed the championship with a comfortable 3-0 win over Siena yesterday. The only team that could have caught them on points, Milan, surprisingly lost 2-1 to Udinese on Saturday leaving Inter to turn on the style against their hosts with a display of skill and flair that the triumphant home fans lapped up.

It's a tremendous achievement for Mourinho who picks up the Scudetto in his first season at the club and who can now claim to have won five titles in seven years in three different countries. Not a bad set of statistics to put on your CV, we think you'll agree.

With Milan losing, it was up to third-placed Juventus to try and close the gap on them but they failed to do so following a 2-2 draw against mid-table Atalanta. Juve came back from 1-0 down to lead 2-1 after goals by Iaquinta and Zanetti but Pellegrino's equaliser just before half time left Claudio Ranieri's side cursing at a sixth draw in eight games - a run of form which just today has cost Ranieri his job. Contrast that with Fiorentina who have won six out of their last seven and you have an interesting race for the third and final Champions League spot next season.

Lecce are the new team at the bottom of Serie A following their 2-1 defeat to Bologna who themselves remain in the bottom three. 2-1 was obviously the big scoreline of the week for the bottom teams as 19th-placed Reggina beat Cagliari and 17th-placed Torino overcame Napoli by the same result.

Next week, Lecce play the resurgent Fiorentina in a bid to avoid the wooden spoon while Reggina play a very out-of-form Lazio and Bologna take on Chievo Verona. Torino, meanwhile, are at home to Genoa who look like they'll be playing in the Europa League next season.

At the top, Milan look to finish their season on a high by beating Roma while Juventus will be trying not to draw again when they travel to Siena.

Spain / La Liga

Without even kicking a ball, Barcelona finally captured the Primera Division title yesterday. It was all made possible thanks to Real Madrid's 3-2 defeat at Villareal which left them mathematically unable to catch the champions elect with two games remaining. As if to make them feel better, Barca themselves lost at the weekend by two goals to one against Mallorca, but by that stage the hard work had already been done.

Former youth team coach Pep Guardiola can now sit back and reflect on a campaign which has seen Barcelona play some of its best football for many years. The triumvirate of Eto'o, Messi and Henry produced 71 goals between them and their combined efforts were enough even to beat Real 6-2 recently - a scoreline which will rankle with the Madrid fans for many a long year.

All that's left to decide at the top of the league is who will get the final Champions League place, and at the moment that could be any one of four teams - Sevilla (currently 3rd), Atletico Madrid (4th), Villareal (5th) or Valencia (6th).

Atletico Madrid might be the favourites to grab it going on current form. They've won five out of the last six and face two mid-table teams before the season's out - Athletic Bilbao and Almeria. That said one of Sevilla's last two games is against next-to-bottom Numancia and a win there may just be enough to close the contest in all reality.

This weekend's fixtures saw Numancia climb off the bottom of La Liga by beating the team directly above them, Recreativo Huelva. Elsewhere, most of the other bottom-dwellers picked up valuable points - Osasuna drawing 0-0 with Sevilla, Getafe drawing 1-1 with Deportivo La Coruna and Sporting Gijon beating Malaga 2-1.

All of that means a whole raft of teams are in danger of going down as we enter the final fortnight so watch this space to see what transpires...

France / Ligue 1

The big news here is that Marseille's push for the title has been massively derailed thanks to a 3-1 home defeat to outgoing champions Lyon. Claude Puel's men are now out of the running for this year's Ligue 1 championship, but a place in next year's Champions League proved more than enough motivation as Benzema scored two and Juninho picked up a third in the dying moments.

Sylvain Wiltord had given Marseille some hope when he pulled a goal back for the home side with ten minutes remaining but it proved insufficient to stop Bordeaux knocking them off the top of the table.

Bordeaux also had a fight on their hands this weekend as they laboured to a 3-2 win at home to relegation strugglers Le Mans. It all looked very optimistic for Le Mans when Anthony Le Tallec broke the deadlock on 24 minutes but that just instigated a ding-dong battle which saw Bordeaux come from behind twice to win the match.

That win means Laurent Blanc's side are now three points clear of Marseille with two games remaining while Lyon, (third) could yet catch Marseille as long as they win both their remaining matches.

At the bottom, it was a bad week for most of the strugglers with the notable exception of Saint Etienne who are finally hauling themselves out of the relegation zone. A midweek 4-2 win away to bottom club Le Havre plus a good draw at home to Toulouse means they're now one place above the bottom three.

That means Le Havre are now officially relegated to Ligue 2 next season and they'll be joined by any two from Nantes, Saint Etienne, Sochaux, Caen and Le Mans. On current form, we'd have to go for Sochaux and Nantes - the two teams currently occupying the remaining two relegation places.

And that brings us nicely onto next week's fixtures in which, incredibly, Nantes and Sochaux face each other in a hugely important six-pointer. Saint Etienne won't have it easy either, though - they'll be playing away to Auxerre who have won each of their last five games. At the top, Bordeaux play host to Monaco while Marseille travel to mid-table Nancy who won 3-0 at the Stade Velodrome earlier this season.

Portugal / Portuguese Liga

You'll remember last week we broke the news that Porto were unofficially crowned league champions due to their superior goal difference over Sporting Lisbon. Well this week we can break the news officially thanks to Porto's 4-1 win away to Trofense.

Credit where credit's due though - Sporting also won their game on Saturday (2-1 over Maritimo), but with just one game remaining Porto's six point lead is finally now beyond the reasoning of Sporting's most ardent doubters.

So with Porto automatically qualifying for the Champions League and Sporting Listbon heading for the qualifying round of same, it was left to Benfica, Nacional and Sporting Braga to confirm their places in next season's Europa League. This they did largely thanks to the points tally they had going into this weekend's games rather than the games themselves, but no matter. European football is assured for them next season.

Finally at the other end, the bottom two switched places once again. Belenenses earned a crucial 1-0 win at home to Rio Ave while Trofense were being thrashed by Porto, so that leaves Trofense at the bottom on 23 points and Belenenses just above them on 24.

Vitoria Setubal (14th) and Rio Ave (13th) could both yet be dragged into the mire on the last day, so all eyes will be on Trofense's match at Paços de Ferreira, Belenenses' trip to Benfica, Vitoria's home game against Academica and Rio Ave's match at home to Estrela Amadora. By way of a prediction, we're going for the current bottom two to remain in situ when the final whistle's blown across Portugal on Sunday evening.

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