Dethroned Italian champions Napoli's hopes of playing European football next season are hanging by a thread after they played out a 2-2 draw at Fiorentina in Serie A on Friday.

Napoli took the lead in the eighth minute through defender Amir Rrahmani, who nodded home a corner by Matteo Politano.

Cristiano Biraghi levelled for Fiorentina in the 40th minute from a free-kick, before M'Bala Nzola put the hosts in front two minutes later when he fired a shot into the bottom corner of the net.

Napoli's Khvicha Kvaratskhelia responded with another stunning free-kick early in the second half to rescue a point for his team.

Eighth-placed Fiorentina, on 54 points and with a game in hand, are five points behind Lazio in seventh.

They can still earn a Europa League spot either by leapfrogging the Rome side or by winning the Europa Conference League final in which they face Greece's Olympiakos on May 29.

Ninth-placed Napoli, on 52 points, still have a slim chance of making the Europa Conference League playoffs.

Data Debrief

Fiorentina left-back Biraghi has now scored six goals from direct free-kicks since the start of 2021-22, which is behind only James Ward-Prowse (seven) - now of West Ham and formerly of Southampton - as the most across Europe's top five leagues in that period.

Kvaratskhelia also levelled via a direct free-kick, making this the first Serie A match in which both teams scored via that route since Fiorentina against Lazio in April 2018 (Jordan Veretout and Luis Alberto in that case).

Inter Milan beat Napoli to win the Italian Super Cup after both teams paid tribute to Italy’s all-time top scorer Gigi Riva.

Lautaro Martinez scored the winner in injury time as Inter wrapped up a third straight Super Cup success.

But the match, held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, between current Serie A champions Napoli and Coppa Italia holders Inter, was overshadowed by Riva’s death, aged 79.

A minute’s applause was held before the second half after the news filtered through during the first half.

Riva scored 35 goals in 42 appearances for Italy and was a member of the squad which won the 1968 European Championship and lost in the 1970 World Cup final to Brazil.

He was also a prolific goalscorer for Cagliari, leading the Sardinian club to their only Serie A title in 1970.

It appeared that no one was going to find a goal to settle the match, until Martinez finally broke the deadlock two minutes into added time.

Inter dominated the first half and created the first chance when a long Matteo Darmian throw-in found its way through to Federico Dimarco, whose volley was deflected inches wide.

Martinez then headed wide from Francesco Acerbi’s cross and Henrikh Mkhitaryan fired over 20 yards out.

Martinez had the ball in the net after 40 minutes when he tapped in Marcus Thuram’s cross but an offside flag curtailed any celebrations.

Napoli’s first real opening came six minutes into the second half when Stanislav Lobotka fed Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

The Georgian cut back inside and tried to curl the ball towards the far post but his effort was beaten away by Inter keeper Yann Sommer.

Napoli were reduced to 10 men on the hour after Giovanni Simeone was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Acerbi.

Inter set about trying to press home their numerical advantage but Thuram twice missed his kick in front of goal and Martinez volleyed over the crossbar.

Frustrated Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri was shown a yellow card before Mkhitaryan tried his luck again, only to send his shot too high.

The match looked destined for penalties until Alexis Sanchez fed Benjamin Pavard down the right.

Pavard pinged in a low cross which was swept home by Martinez to wrap up a super treble for Inter.

Scotland drew 2-2 with Georgia in Tbilisi in the penultimate match of their successful European Championship qualifying campaign.

Scott McTominay and substitute Lawrence Shankland both hit equalisers after Napoli attacker Khvicha Kvaratskhelia struck twice for the hosts.

Here are five things we learned from the encounter in the Boris Paichadze Stadium ahead of Scotland’s final Group A game against Norway on Sunday.

Substitutes are key again

Kenny McLean scored a late winner off the bench in Oslo in June and the substitute made a more sustained if less spectacular impact on Thursday night. The Norwich midfielder set up McTominay to level and generally helped improve Scotland’s possession after a slack first half with fellow half-time replacement Lewis Ferguson also contributing. Shankland then headed home in stoppage time from fellow sub Stuart Armstrong’s cross with Anthony Ralston also showing up well in a brief cameo. Manager Steve Clarke has not always been quick to make changes but it appears that the bench is becoming more and more important to Scotland in the five-subs era.

Shankland stakes his claim

The Hearts striker dropped out of the squad last month but earned a late call-up on the back of five goals in his last five club games when Che Adams pulled out. The 28-year-old seized his chance when he rose well to head home. “We needed a goal and you know Lawrence has always got a chance of getting a goal,” said Clarke as he explained why he had used him. Scotland will undoubtedly need a goal at some stage in Germany next summer and an in-form Shankland is arguably the most natural goalscorer Scotland have.

Pot two still in reach

Spain’s late goal in Seville last month wiped out Scotland’s head-to-head advantage and any realistic chance of Clarke’s side topping the group. Scotland would need to beat Norway on Sunday while Georgia win in Spain for that to happen. There is a better chance of Scotland finishing as the best runners-up and sealing a place in pot two for next month’s draw. That looks likely to be Austria, assuming Belgium beat Azerbaijan, but a two-goal win or a high-scoring one-goal victory could put the Scots among the second seeds. However, that could theoretically hand Scotland a tougher draw given the likes of Netherlands, Denmark, Italy or Ukraine are headed for pot three.

Zander Clark shows his mettle

The Hearts goalkeeper was beaten at his near post for Kvaratskhelia’s opener but there were bigger factors in the lead-up to the goal which left the former St Johnstone man exposed on his competitive debut. Clark went on to make three assured saves including one in the dying seconds.

Back four experiment has mixed success

With Kieran Tierney, Andy Robertson and Aaron Hickey joining long-term absentee Grant Hanley on the sidelines in recent weeks, Clarke went with a back four featuring Nathan Patterson, Ryan Porteous, Scott McKenna and Greg Taylor. Scotland seemed more open as a result, especially in the first half, although they dominated the final half hour. Tierney’s return to fitness looks key to Scotland’s Euro 2024 prospects given his influence in the back three.

Lawrence Shankland headed a stoppage-time equaliser as Scotland averted more torment in Tbilisi with a 2-2 draw against Georgia.

The Hearts striker was a late call-up for the injured Che Adams and seized his chance when he headed home fellow substitute Stuart Armstrong’s cross two minutes into added time.

Scott McTominay earlier took his Euro 2024 qualifying campaign tally to seven goals when he cancelled out the first of two strikes from Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

The Napoli winger proved a threat all night, but Scotland contributed to their own problems with a slack first 45 minutes.

McTominay drilled home from 20 yards four minutes after the restart and, after quickly falling behind again, Scotland finished strongly to prevent a fourth consecutive defeat in Clarke’s 50th game in charge.

Scotland had lost on their two previous visits to the Boris Paichadze stadium, defeats which proved very costly in otherwise promising attempts to qualify for the European Championships of 2008 and 2016.

And, while Clarke’s side had booked their trip to Germany with two games to spare, they were looking to boost their chances of sealing a place among the pot two seeds for next month’s draw.

Georgia, who had only lost four of their previous 20 games, also had plenty to play for given they will be in the play-offs in March courtesy of their Nations League performances, and a crowd of 44,595 plus some needle on the pitch gave the game a competitive edge.

With Angus Gunn injured, Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark got the nod to start ahead of Motherwell’s Liam Kelly for his competitive international debut.

Scotland started with a back four amid the absence of Kieran Tierney, while the likes of Andy Robertson, Aaron Hickey and Grant Hanley were also missing.

There were early signs that Scotland were not quite at it, from the moment Scott McKenna launched the ball out of play from the kick-off.

Ryan Christie then scuppered a promising break by delaying and then over-hitting a pass outside to Callum McGregor.

Billy Gilmour set up McTominay with a clever low corner, but the Manchester United midfielder fired over first time.

Clark made his first save 13 minutes in when he gathered Giorgi Chakvetadze’s long-range drive but he was beaten two minutes later.

Greg Taylor failed to cut out a cross-field pass and wing-back Otar Kakabadze delivered a low first-time cross which Kvaratskhelia swept inside the near post after sliding in just ahead of Ryan Porteous.

Clark soon rescued Scotland with a good parry from Levan Shengelia after a poor pass from Lyndon Dykes, who atoned by blocking the subsequent shot.

Dykes headed off target from Gilmour’s free-kick as Scotland failed to trouble the home goalkeeper in the first half.

Too many passes were going astray and Scotland struggled to produce a telling delivery from several corners and crosses from the right flank.

Half-time changes seemed inevitable and Lewis Ferguson and Kenny McLean came on for Gilmour and Christie.

McLean was soon involved in the first equaliser. The Norwich midfielder collected Taylor’s pass and set up McTominay, whose strike seemed to wrongfoot the home keeper at his near post.

Clark made another good stop to deny Shengelia, this time from a free-kick.

But Georgia kept up the pressure and Kvaratskhelia restored their lead in the 57th minute when he cut inside Nathan Patterson and drilled into the far corner.

Dykes soon thought he had levelled with a near-post header from Patterson’s corner, but Giorgi Mamardashvili produced a brilliant diving save on the line.

Scotland continued to press, although most of their efforts were coming from long range.

Ferguson saw a header saved before Shankland rose to head into the top corner.

Clark put the seal on a satisfying night when he made a near-post stop in the dying seconds.

Napoli still have work to do to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages after Union Berlin ended 12 consecutive defeats by securing a 1-1 draw at Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

Chelsea loanee David Datro Fofana cancelled out Matteo Politano’s earlier strike as Union, bottom of Group C, picked up their first Champions League point.

Serie A champions Napoli, who knew a win would leave them needing one point from their final two games to guarantee a last-16 spot, had two chances to go in front after 15 minutes.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia did well to beat his marker before playing in Piotr Zielinski who was denied from close range by Union keeper Frederik Ronnow.

Ronnow kept his side in it again when he saved Giacomo Raspadori’s chance moments later.

Napoli, still without injured star striker Victor Osimhen, also came agonisingly close after 23 minutes.

The creative Zielinski produced a wonderful whipped cross with his left foot which found the head of Natan whose header cannoned off the post.

Napoli also had a goal ruled out when VAR deemed Giovanni Di Lorenzo to have put two hands on Jerome Roussillon’s back before his header found Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa at the back post.

However, Napoli did go ahead in the 39th minute.

Full-back Mario Rui’s powered cross took a heavy deflection off team-mate Politano’s chest.

The goal, Politano’s second Champions League strike, was his sixth in all competitions this season.

The visitors, third bottom in the Bundesliga, came out fast and they snatched an unexpected equaliser in the 52nd minute.

Sheraldo Becker glided past his marker before goalkeeper Alex Meret parried into the path of Fofana who drew the visitors level.

Napoli were made to pay for their lethargic start to the second half and Union threw men forward in numbers to grab a second.

Kvaratskhelia had two chances to score a winner, but he could not beat Ronnow.

Napoli travel to Real Madrid next with Union heading to Braga.

Rudi Garcia is determined to hit AC Milan when they are down and relaunch Napoli’s Serie A title defence.

A rocky start to the season saw the Partenopei fall well short of expectations and critics of new head coach Garcia’s approach did not take long to make their voices heard.

But three league wins from four have thrust Napoli right back into contention and a home win against second-placed Milan, whose bubble has been burst by consecutive defeats to Juventus and Paris St Germain, could lift them to third.

“We have this home match against one of our direct rivals and it’s one we really want to win,” Garcia told reporters.

“There’s a good atmosphere in the camp. We’ve had a decent run of results but we know that if we really want to move up the table we need to keep winning back-to-back games.

“We want victory at home especially because we have the help of our fans after two wins on the road.”

Milan were one of the few sides to get the better of Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli last season, memorably winning 4-0 at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona as the hosts were trying to rubber-stamp their Scudetto.

“It will be a different game to last season,” Garcia said. “People keep saying this Napoli team is different to the one from last season so this game against Milan will be different too.”

Rossoneri boss Stefano Pioli, meanwhile, is demanding an instant response to last weekend’s San Siro reverse against Juve and a 3-0 humiliation at PSG in the Champions League on Wednesday.

He said at a press conference: “The team is hungry to turn things around.

“For the first time this season, we’ve lost two in a row in two big games and tomorrow we have another one.

“We’ll need to show that we have the quality to be a consistent side. We have to keep at it for 95 minutes against teams like this.

“We must live in the present; we’ve made mistakes and got results that we didn’t want. We have the chance in Naples to put in a better performance and show that we’re better.

“Garcia is a great coach. He had issues at the start – which is normal – but now they’re playing well and creating a lot.

“We need to be aware of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia because he can hurt you one-on-one. We’ll try to be alert.”

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia scored twice as Napoli relaunched their Serie A title defence with a 3-1 victory at struggling Hellas Verona.

Recent underwhelming form saw Rudi Garcia’s men suffer a home defeat by Fiorentina last time out but they were always likely to get more from a trip to a Verona side who were winless in six matches heading into Saturday afternoon’s clash.

Matteo Politano made the first-half breakthrough before Kvaratskhelia scored either side of the break to render Darko Lazovic’s response largely redundant as Napoli consolidated themselves in fifth, not far behind the leading pack.

Napoli were first to threaten as Giacomo Raspadori forced Lorenzo Montipo to punch clear from a venomous free-kick in the seventh minute.

Raspadori soon tried again, this time connecting with a Mario Rui touch to test Montipo from distance. The Verona goalkeeper parried for a corner but he was not so successful in the 27th minute when Napoli opened the scoring.

Mario Rui, Piotr Zielinski and Raspadori tied Verona up in knots with a series of short passes before the latter crossed to an unmarked Politano for a volleyed left-footed finish at the far post.

There was almost a quickfire second when Jens Cajuste, put through by the slick Raspadori, spanked it wide from a one-on-one with Montipo.

Kvaratskhelia gave Napoli a two-goal lead before half-time, however. A rapid counter-attack down the right side gave Politano plenty of time to pick out the Georgian on the other flank for a low drive inside the near post.

Verona tried to slash the deficit as soon as play resumed, with Federico Bonazzoli latching onto Milan Djuric’s pass and fizzing it towards Alex Meret in the Napoli goal.

Instead Kvaratskhelia fired the Partenopei well clear when, in the 55th minute, he collected another Politano assist and coolly beat Montipo.

Lazovic promptly bit back for wounded Verona, though, when the visitors failed to deal with Davide Faraoni’s cross on the hour mark and the Serbian scorched one in.

With a potential comeback on the cards the game opened up and Djuric and Politano enjoyed opportunities at either end before Meret pulled off a desperate stop to deny Bonazzoli before needing to keep Lazovic at bay not long after.

Substitute Alessio Zerbin looked to rubber-stamp the Napoli win as time ticked away but Montipo prevented further damage by blocking the daisy cutter with his legs, limiting the winning margin to two goals.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.