Italy shocked by UEFA Cup failures

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Milan, Oct 5: Italian soccer is struggling to come to terms with the exit of three of their four UEFA Cup entrants in first round.

Fiorentina drew 2-2 on aggregate and needed penalties to beat small Dutch team Groningen but Palermo lost out in their shootout to little-known Czech side Mlada Boleslav after a 1-1 aggregate draw yesterday.

Sampdoria were eliminated on away goals to Denmark's Aalborg after a 2-2 aggregate draw and Empoli lost 4-2 overall to FC Zurich on their first European adventure.

In the past, second tier Italian clubs such as Sampdoria had top class players in their ranks and were constantly challenging for domestic and European honours.

But outside Italy's big four of Inter Milan, AC Milan, Juventus and Roma, the other teams are now finding it hard to keep up with similar-sized European sides because of a series of financial scandals which have affected their buying power.

''We knew it would be a battle, all the games in Europe are now like that, hard and intense,'' Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli told reporters.

Now Serie A clubs have started losing to teams from countries deemed far beneath world champions Italy, although Prandelli suggested the UEFA Cup is no longer a priority.

''I know we are the only Italian team through in the UEFA Cup. I believe this is because we had more tension in respect to the others, who play too leisurely,'' he added.

''I hope only that our effort tonight does not hamper us for Sunday's battle with Juventus...a match just as important as the Groningen match.''


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