A $40 million match: Lazio and Napoli meet for 3rd place and lucrative Champions League spot



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ROME — Lazio and Napoli face each other in the final round of Serie A matches on Sunday with a Champions League berth at stake.

All eyes will be on the game in Naples to see which club will reach the final playoff round with the aim to advance to the lucrative group stage of the competition.

Combining UEFA prize money and projected ticket sales, qualifying for the group phase of the Champions League could be worth more than 40 million euros ($40 million).

Lazio holds a three-point lead over fourth-placed Napoli and needs a draw to secure third place. A Napoli win would see the southern club take given its better head-to-head record, after a 1-0 win over Lazio in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.

Lazio travel to Naples following two significant losses. Stefano Pioli's side lost the Italian Cup final to Juventus 2-1 last week before being beaten by city rival Roma by the same score in a heated derby on Monday.

"We've got to raise our heads right away," Pioli said after the derby. "Our season has also been built on losses and we've got to show that we're a real squad."

Napoli has struggled in its last five outings. They were eliminated from the Europa League semifinals by Ukrainian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, drew 2-2 with already relegated Parma, narrowly beat Cesena 3-2, then lost 3-1 to Serie A champion Juventus last weekend.

Here are a few things to know about this weekend's matches:


BENITEZ BIDS GOODBYE:

The Lazio match will almost certainly be Rafa Benitez's last as Napoli's coach.

The Spanish manager has reportedly agreed to take over from Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid.

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis tried to convince Benitez to extend his contract, to no avail.

Asked about the Madrid reports, De Laurentiis responded, "When they announce it we'll comment on it."

Sampdoria coach Sinisa Mihajlovic is the leading choice to replace Benitez.


TEVEZ VS. TONI

Luca Toni will be looking to maintain his edge over Carlos Tevez atop the league scoring chart when Verona hosts Juventus.

Toni has 21 goals, one more than Tevez and Inter's Mauro Icardi.

Toni, who turned 38 on Tuesday, would become the oldest "capocannoniere" in Serie A history.

Dario Hubner, who was joint top scorer with David Trezeguet at the age of 35 in 2001-02, currently holds the oldest mark.

"On Sunday we're facing the strongest team in Italy, and maybe in Europe," said Toni, a 2006 World Cup winner with Italy. "We'll try to finish in style."


COACHING CAROUSEL

As usual, there will likely be several firings soon after the Serie A season ends.

Filippo Inzaghi will almost surely be removed at AC Milan, with cub vice president Adriano Galliani trying to convince recently fired Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti to return to the club where he won two European Cups as a player and two Champions League titles as a coach.

However, it's not an easy sell with Milan set to finish in the middle of the table and having missed out on qualification for any European competition next season.

Vincenzo Montella has hinted he might leave Fiorentina, with Parma's Roberto Donadoni reportedly ready to step in as a replacement.

Former Italy goalkeeper Walter Zenga and Empoli's Maurizio Sarri could replace Mihajlovic at Sampdoria if the Serb moves to Napoli.

Also, Andrea Stramaccioni has reportedly broken ties with Udinese, and will be replaced by former Atalanta manager Stefano Colantuono.


This weekend's fixtures in full: Hellas Verona vs. Juventus; Atalanta vs. AC Milan; Cagliari vs. Udinese; Fiorentina vs. Chievo Verona; Inter Milan vs. Empoli; Napoli vs. Lazio; Roma vs. Palermo; Sampdoria vs. Parma; Sassuolo vs. Genoa; and Torino vs. Cesena.


Andrew Dampf can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

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