Napoli stopped in their tracks
The ramifications of the result were huge at the top of the table.
After this weekend's action we're closer to knowing who will be winning the major European leagues and that includes Serie A, after Napoli lost at home to Udinese. Ben Lyttleton thinks it's now AC Milan's to lose.
This was the weekend that the chasing pack faltered: in England, Arsenalv dropped points to Liverpool; in Spain, Real Madrid did the same, albeit to champions-elect Barcelona; it was the same story in Germany, where second-placed Bayer Leverkusen were thrashed 5-1 by Bayern Munich, which as good as confirms Borussia Dortmund as champions.
When Inter lost 2-0 to Parma on Saturday night, the Scudetto turned into a two-horse race, the advantage with leaders AC Milan after their 3-0 win over Sampdoria. Napoli remained their biggest threat, and faced out-of-form Udinese needing a win to reduce the gap to three points.
Francesco Guidolin has performed miracles at the Fruili club, but Udinese went into the game having just lost to Lecce and Roma and were without top scorer Antonio di Natale and playmaker Alexis Sanchez, who between them had scored 38 of their 57 league goals for the season. They also lost Mauricio Isla, their outstanding wide-player, though injury in the first half but still they recovered to beat the title-chasers 2-1, goals from Gokhan Inler and centre-forward German Denis (formerly of Napoli) rendering Giuseppe Mascara's late consolation in vain. Before Mascara struck, Edinson Cavani had his late penalty stopped by Samir Handanovic, the Slovenian's fifth stop of the season.
The ramifications of the result were huge at the top of the table. Milan, six points clear with five games left, surely cannot slip up now, while Napoli will bemoan a record against the four teams around them which reads six defeats in seven games.
Udinese are now back in the hunt for a Champions League place, one point behind fourth-placed Lazio. Di Natale has helped Udinese reach the Champions League before (he scored a hat-trick against Werder Bremen which he rates as the highlight of his career) and to do so again would reward his side for a thrilling season.
Udinese have been Italy's grand entertainers, particularly since the turn of the year where their scores have included a 4-2 win over Genoa, a 3-1 win over Inter, a 4-4 draw with Milan and a 7-0 win at Palermo. As betting.betfair.com's Italian specialist Dave Farrar advises, Udinese are always worth backing in the Over-Goals market away from home, where their counter-attacking game is better suited.
The concern that would follow any European qualification would be how many players they can hold on to for next season. Inler looks set for Napoli (reportedly, that's why he didn't celebrate his goal) while Sanchez is a target for Europe's big boys: Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona have all been linked. Isla is another hot property, as are Handanovic and defender Mehdi Benatia. Though Sanchez has claimed otherwise, Udinese's summer recruitment plans will depend on where they finish: they are [1.71] to finish fourth, with Lazio [1.64].
The other market affected by the game was the one for Top Scorer: Di Natale, on 26 goals, is currently [1.73] favourite with Cavani, one goal behind, on [2.28]. The Uruguayan had scored six in his last three before the botched spot-kick, while Di Natale has eight in his last six.
It's not all over in the rest of Europe, though: in France, though Lyon lost to Paris Saint-Germain to end their hopes, leaders Lille could only draw with Bordeaux, so Marseille closed the gap to one point with a 2-1 win over Montpellier. Marseille are [2.2] with Lille, who are beginning to wobble, [1.8].
The closest battle remains is in Holland, where one point separates the top three teams. That's after leaders (and reigning champions) Twente could only draw with De Graafschap, while PSV Eindhoven moved top after beating Heracles 2-0. The biggest surprise is that Ajax are still in the hunt: they came from behind to beat NEC 2-1 and are one point behind the joint-leaders, but having won five of their last six, have the momentum. With three games left to play, PSV are [1.71] to clinch the Eredivisie, with Twente [3.65] and Ajax [3.05].