Such was the evenness of the 2009/10 Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio, five of the six play-off places were not decided until the last day of the regular season.
S.S. Cosmos, Domagnano FC and AC Juvenes-Dogana qualified from Group A, while SP Tre Penne, SC Faetano and SP Tre Fiori, the titleholders, advanced from Group B. All are now striving to win the Scudetto and with it a place in next term's UEFA Champions League first qualifying round.
Ermanno Zonzini, whose Cosmos team claimed top spot in Group A by beating S.S. Murata 1-0 on the final day, told UEFA.com: "It was a good campaign for us and we ended it in the best possible way. We played the right game at the right time, eliminating a potential title contender in Murata. I'm sure we have a chance against Tre Penne in the play-offs even though they proved to be a great team."
Tre Penne's 15 wins from 20 games – more than any club in either section – back up Zonzini's assertion, as does the fact that Stefano Ceci has guided the Serravalle outfit into the end-of-season finale for the third successive year.
"The play-offs are a completely different tournament compared to the regular season," stressed Ceci. "Small details can make the difference. You also need to save energy because extra time might be needed. Cosmos are a good team with a solid defence and two good forwards."
The play-offs have a double-elimination format – teams are knocked out after two defeats – and begin with a fixture between the third and second-placed sides in their respective groups: Faetano versus Juvenes-Dogana and Domagnano against Tre Fiori. Without a title since 1999 and having endured an indifferent campaign, Faetano coach Sereno Uraldi is happy to assume the role of the underdog.
"In December we were really behind in the standings but then improved while also getting a bit of luck," said Uraldi. "We have less of a chance compared to other teams but I'm still very happy and proud about what we did during the regular season."
His opposite number at Juvenes/Dogana, Luciano Mularoni, thinks the play-offs are difficult to call, however. "I have great respect for Sereno Uraldi and his experience," he said. "We have a good chance but all six teams can go all the way."
Tre Fiori qualified with a third-placed finish in Group B despite a series of injuries to key players. "We hope to have some of them back in the play-offs after a difficult season," revealed coach Floriano Sperindio. "Alessandro Giunta's absence was a severe blow in attack, but the signing of Sossio Aruta allowed us to get back into contention. Now we are ready for Domagnano, who are arguably the surprise package of the season thanks to Federico Rossini's great work."
While happy to accept such praise, Rossini is hoping his Domagnano squad can maintain the form that has propelled them into title contention. "We know perfectly well there are better teams than us so we have to continue with the same level of focus and fighting spirit in the play-offs," he said.
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