Football: Napoli trapped in the twilight zone

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Italy

WHILE MILAN and their fans are celebrating after reclaiming the Serie A title on Sunday, the atmosphere is far from joyous at another famous old Italian club.

Napoli sacked their coach, Renzo Ulivieri, yesterday following their failure to win promotion from Serie B. Champions of Serie A in 1987 and 1990 before their relegation a year ago, they lost 3-2 at Lucchese on Sunday, ending their lingering hopes of returning to the top flight at the first attempt.

Napoli sacked both Ulivieri and the assistant coach, Walter Mazzarri, and appointed the youth-team trainer Enzo Montefusco as caretaker coach for the final three Serie B matches of the season.

Serie A came to an end on Sunday and, amazingly, every club in the division had something to play for on the final day except for Empoli, Vicenza and Sampdoria, who were already relegated. As well as the championship and the final relegation place (which was filled by Salernitana), there were places in the Champions' League and the Uefa Cup to contest.

Finishing outside the top five (Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina, Parma and Roma) did not mean missing out on Europe. Starting on Thursday and finishing next Monday, Internazionale meet Bologna and Juventus play Udinese in two-leg play-offs, with the victors going on to the Uefa Cup and the losers having to settle for the Intertoto Cup. So, if Ronaldo and his Inter team- mates fail to see off Bologna, or if Zinedine Zidane and his colleagues at Juventus lose their play-off, they will find that their 1999/2000 season starts on the first weekend of July.

South Africa

MANCHESTER UNITED have signed a deal with FC Fortune, making the Western Cape club their official feeder team in South Africa.

The First Division club is co-owned by the South Africa and Atletico Madrid midfielder Quinton Fortune, who was once on the books of Tottenham. The Manchester United director Michael Edelson is on the FC Fortune board.

Belgium

ANOTHER CLUB which has a player development arrangement with Manchester United is in big trouble. Late last Thursday, 11 Belgian policemen were injured when rioting broke out after Royal Antwerp let in three late goals to lose 3-1 to Turnhout in a Second Division promotion play-off first- leg game.

The second leg, due to be played on Sunday at Antwerp's Bosuil stadium, was called off by order of the city's mayor, Leona Detiege. "I'm just getting sick of all this. It is just too much," she said, complaining that the club was refusing to make sufficient efforts to contain the hooligans, who used iron bars, stones and even a scythe to attack police.

Romania

ROMANIANS HAVE given their top player, Gheorghe Hagi, a racehorse and named a pastry after him in gratitude for coming out of retirement to play a single match for the national team.

"I'm very happy. I like horses," Hagi said of the animal, Luciano Pavarotti, presented to him by a local owner, Ion Dulugeac. "The question is, what will I do with it?"

A Bucharest confectioner, Ilie Cionca, put on sale a cake named "Hagi", which he described as "very sweet, like all Turkish cakes."

The 34-year-old, who plays his club football for Galatasaray in Turkey, will temporarily end his international retirement to play in a Euro 2000 qualifer against Hungary on 5 June.

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