MILAN — In the small northern Italian town of Ferrara, Spal’s scoreless draw over Juventus is still fresh in the memory.
Juventus came to town on March 17, four points clear at the top of the standings, but relegation-threatened Spal managed to temporarily halt the Bianconeri’s march to a seventh straight title with a 0-0 draw.
Spal now has its eyes on safety.
“The Juventus match should give us conviction, self-esteem, but we have to keep our feet on the ground,” Spal coach Leonardo Semplici said. “Our path is long and full of difficulty but we are preparing for a final boost which could allow us to end up safe, a goal which we all want to achieve.”
Spal has managed to push itself out of the relegation zone with two wins and two draws in its past four matches, but it is only one point above the bottom three in an increasingly tight battle to avoid the drop.
Only five points separate 15th-place Sassuolo from 19th-place Hellas Verona in the 20-team league. Cagliari — in 14th — is far from assured of safety, either, while Genoa hosts Spal on Saturday and has only five points more than its opponent.
After fighting its way back to Serie A for the first time in nearly 50 years, Spal is doing what it can to avoid going back down.
Before this season, few outside of Italy would have heard about Societa Polisportiva Ars et Labor, despite the club known as Spal spending more than 20 seasons in Serie A and launching the career of Fabio Capello in 1967, its penultimate year in Serie A previously.
It was a long way back to the top league.
The northeastern club went through bankruptcy and was refounded twice — in 2005 and 2012. But it managed to recover from that latest setback to return to Serie A in only five years after back-to-back promotions.
In 2016, Spal reached Serie B for the first time since 1993. Then it surprisingly beat Hellas Verona to the title to gain promotion while boasting the most prolific attack and the third-best defense last season.
Semplici has been the mastermind behind Spal’s climb up the leagues. The former Fiorentina youth team coach took charge at the end of 2014 and was rewarded this week with the Panchina d’argento trophy for the best coach in Serie B last season.
“It’s a good feeling,” the 50-year-old Semplici said. “A recognition that arrives after a really great journey with my club, my team and those who support us.
“It would be great this year to crown it with survival, which would conclude the journey we started a few years ago.”