Ranieri’s Champions League ambitions dented by SPAL

ROME (AFP) – Claudio Ranieri’s Roma fell to a shock 2-1 defeat at struggling SPAL on Saturday night, missing a golden opportunity to close the gap on Champions League rivals Inter Milan and AC Milan.

Milan are third, one point ahead of Inter, with Roma in fifth three points back in the battle for elite European football next season.

Ranieri had won his first match after taking over from sacked Eusebio Di Francesco – 2-1 against Empoli – but his side fell to their relegation-threatened hosts, leaving Roma’s season in the balance.

“I expected more. Our opponents were a team and we weren’t,” said Ranieri of Roma.

“There’s a plan in place if Roma get into the Champions League,” he warned his players.

“If we don’t, quite a few of these guys could change clubs.

“We lost to a team who earn less than us, who are more humble than us, more determined than us, who are up to their necks in it, and they showed all that today.”

Algerian international Mohamed Fares nodded SPAL ahead after 22 minutes, and Ranieri introduced 19-year-old rising star Nicolo Zaniolo after the break to immediate effect.

Edin Dzeko ran on to a 53rd-minute Zaniolo through-ball and was fouled by Thiago Cionek in the area, before Diego Perotti converted the penalty.

But seven minutes later Andrea Petagna scored the winner for SPAL from the spot following a foul by Roma defender Juan Jesus.