Soccer-Empoli back in Serie A, Bari snatch playoff spot

(Reuters) - Empoli have returned to Serie A for the first time in six years after the Tuscan side beat Pescara 2-0 to secure second place in Serie B and automatic promotion on the last day of the season.

A comical own goal from Federico Di Francesco with 20 minutes left and Francesco Tavano’s 22nd goal of the season four minutes later started the promotion party for Maurizio Sarri’s Empoli outfit at the Stadio Carlo Castellani.

They secured promotion at the expense of Latina who had to win and hope Empoli drew but could only manage a goalless draw at home to Spezia. Palermo had already been crowned champions with five matches to spare as they went up at the first attempt.

Bari hammered Novara 4-1 to snatch a playoff place in front of a 50,000 crowd thanks to a double by Albanian Edgar Cani, a Diego Polenta penalty and Beltrame Stefano’s smart solo goal as they recovered from being a goal down in the 50th minute. The southern team had declared themselves bankrupt in March but last week were saved from going out of existence by former referee Gianluca Paparesta, who bought the club in an auction. Bari started the day in ninth place but Spezia’s draw at Latina and Siena’s 2-0 loss at relegation-threatened Varese allowed Roberto Alberti Mazzaferro’s side to sneak into seventh spot and keep their hopes of promotion to Serie A alive. They now travel to Crotone on Tuesday in the preliminary playoffs, with the winners taking on Latina in the semi-finals. Bari have put some troubled times behind them in recent weeks. They began the 2012-13 Serie B season with a seven-point deduction for financial irregularities and their role in the “Calcioscommesse” match-fixing scandal. They started this season with a four-point penalty and a debt of 30 million euros (24.4 million pounds).

($1 = 0.7328 Euros)

Reporting by Terry Daley; Editing by Ken Ferris