Udinese moved back into fourth spot in Serie A and the final Champions League qualification place with a 2-1 victory over SS Lazio on Sunday.
Serie A top scorer Antonio Di Natale was once again the hero as he scored both goals to give the northerners a two-point lead over Lazio and AS Roma in the race for fourth with two games to play.
Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin paid tribute to his young guns, in particular the returning Alexis Sanchez.
“This is the youngest team ever to be in a fight for a Champions League place,” a jubilant Guidolin said. “Apart from [Giampiero] Pinzi and Di Natale, look at their dates of birth. That’s a great satisfaction for everyone. There’s still a lot of difficulties left, but today we’re happy, in the first half we played like the great Udinese teams of the past. Lazio are a great team who made life difficult for us, especially with high balls.”
“Whoever saw Sanchez today has seen quality and we hope to have him on fire for the last two games,” Guidolin said.
The result also meant that should Juventus beat Chievo in last night’s game they will be only three points off fourth place.
With AC Milan securing the scudetto on Saturday night with a 0-0 draw at Roma, attention on Sunday turned to the other matters still to be decided.
Di Natale timed his run in behind the defense perfectly on 35 minutes to collect Sanchez’s lofted pass, control it and volley home from an angle.
It was two on 42 minutes when Sanchez played Mauricio Isla behind the defense and he opted to square to his captain for a simple tap-in.
Things were made more complicated in the second period when Gabrielle Angella was sent off for bringing down Tommaso Rocchi in the box, but Mauro Zarate curled an awful spot-kick straight into goalkeeper Samir Handanovic’s arms and Udinese survived.
Fourteen minutes from time, Zarate crossed from the left and Libor Kozak stuck out a boot in a crowded penalty area to volley home and set up a tight finish.
Lazio piled forward and even hit the post, but Udinese hung on grimly to snatch the victory.
Inter secured their passage directly into next season’s Champions League group stages with a 3-1 victory over Fiorentina.
Goals from Giampaolo Pazzini and Esteban Cambiasso, both set up by Cameroon captain Samuel Eto’o, gave Inter a 2-0 lead at halftime.
Alberto Gilardino slotted the ball the wrong side of the post when one-on-one with goalkeeper Julio Cesar, but then volleyed home after some neat control on his knee to reduce the deficit.
However, Brazilian starlet Coutinho curled home a late free-kick to make the points safe.
That left Inter 10 points clear of Udinese, but Napoli still need another point to secure their place in the group stages after they lost 2-1 at Lecce.
Daniele Corvia had given Lecce the lead from the penalty spot on 49 minutes, but then got himself sent off for a second yellow card.
Giuseppe Mascara equalized for Napoli, before their striker Edinson Cavani also saw red for a second booking.
Javier Chevanton sent the home fans wild with a stunning winner on the volley two minutes from time.
That win was enough to move Lecce out of the relegation zone, two points above Sampdoria, who lost 2-1 at city rivals Genoa.
Having finished in fourth place last season and qualified for the Champions League, Samp now have two matches to save their season and their Serie A status.
Brescia will join already relegated Bari in Serie B next season after their 2-1 defeat at home to Catania confirmed their drop.
Samp’s loss meant Catania are safe, as are Parma, who drew 0-0 with Bologna.
Bologna and Cesena, who won 2-0 at Cagliari, need two more points to ensure their safety.