You might think that the Europa League doesn't matter, but to Hellas Verona and Torino, achieving continental qualification is a dream which refuses to die. The two European hopefuls faced off at the Bentegodi on Monday, with Torino staging a second half comeback to cancel out Luca Toni's first half penalty.
Toni's opener came at the end of an exciting first half, despite relatively little goalmouth action. The success of both of these sides this season has been a solid defensive foundation, and the result was a game with much probing but little penetration; both sides alternately applying pressure without ever really having a clear look at goal.
It's telling that the best chances in the opening half all directly or indirectly came from set-pieces, with Vangelis Moras heading a corner narrowly wide for Verona just after 20 minutes in, before Torino's Salvatore Masiello spurned a great opportunity from the edge of the box on the ensuing counter-attack.
The opening goal too resulted from a set-piece, with the referee awarding a harsh penalty after spotting some Toro tugging on a Verona corner. Veteran Luca Toni stepped up to convert the ensuing spot-kick, as his seasonal tally notched up to a not-too-shabby 12.
Unfortunately for the raucous Bentegodi crowd, Verona's lead barely lasted beyond the remaining ten minutes of the second half. Within five minutes of the restart a wonderful chipped pass from Omar El Kaddouri was lashed in from close range by the on-form Ciro Immobile, as he continues his claim for an unlikely spot on Italy's World Cup plane this summer.
The impressive El Kaddouri was involved again as Torino edged ahead just a couple of minutes after Immobile's equaliser, as Alessio Cerci stunningly volleyed the Belgian's low assist past Rafael for 2-1. Whatever words of wisdom Toro coach Giampiero Ventura had spoken at halftime, they had worked a treat.
The bulls were well and truly on the rampage, and on the hour they added a third. Assist king El Kaddouri was rewarded with a goal of his own, as he stroked the ball calmly into Rafael's bottom corner from the edge of the area. Verona looked rattled, and missed a rare opportunity to claw their way back into the match when Toni's header was palmed away by Daniele Padelli soon after Toro's third.
Unfortunately the veteran striker had left his shooting boots in the dressing room at halftime, as he failed to take a string of following chances. Torino's second half intensity gradually faded, but they successfully soaked up the mastini pressure to take a vital three points.They now move level on points with Verona and Parma in the Serie A table; all three sides engaged in an almighty scrap for the Europa League spots.
Hellas Verona: Rafael; Agostini, Marques, Moras, Cacciatore (Martinho 66'); Hallfreðsson (Marquinho 79'), Donadel, Rômulo; Gómez, Toni, Iturbe (Sala 79').
Goals: Toni (36').
Torino: Padelli; Moretti, Glik, Bovo; Masiello, El Kaddouri (Farnerud 85'), Vives, Kurtić, Darmian; Immobile (Larrondo 90'), Cerci (Meggiorini 79').
Goals: Immobile (49'), Cerci (53'), El Kaddouri (61').