Udinese's Di Natale bids an emotional farewell after thriller vs. Sampdoria
MAY 17, 2014 7:36p ET
Udinese fans will spend the off-season desperate for Antonio Di Natale to reconsider his decision to retire after the veteran striker scored a mesmerizing hat-trick to force a 3-3 draw with Sampdoria.
Back in January the 36-year-old announced he was calling time on his prolific goalscoring career at the end of the current Serie A season - a season which has been especially disappointing for Udinese, who have finished 13th.
Di Natale has since hinted he will stick around a while longer at the Stadio Friuli but if this was his last game it was a fitting farewell as he scored twice to negate the effect of Stefano Okaka's opener before hitting a late equalizer.
Samp, who end their campaign once point and one place above Udinese, had responded to the Di Natale show by grabbing second-half goals through Eder and Roberto Soriano. The visitors were rampant for 10 early minutes and should have scored through both Manolo Gabbiadini and Soriano before Okaka opened the scoring.
Gabbiadini provided the perfect cross for the former Roma striker, who stooped forward to head the ball beyond Zeljko Brkic. From that point on, however, Di Natale stole the show. He should have notched with his left boot when surprising Vincenzo Fiorillo shortly after Okaka's goal, but the Samp keeper smothered.
Di Natale got past him for the first time in the 26th minute by steering a pinpoint free-kick into the top corner to bring up his 15th goal of the season. Six minutes later he made it 2-1 after Roberto Pereyra streaked down the wing to hop over Fiorillo and slide the ball across the box for Di Natale to convert with ease.
Now hungry for a hat-trick, Di Natale twice came close to firing Udinese further ahead before the break. He rattled the frame of the goal with his follow-up on a shot saved with fists by Fiorillo before, in the 43rd minute, fizzing a free-kick inches wide of the far post.
Samp were not ready to roll over and let Di Natale amuse himself further during the second half. Eight minutes after the restart they equalized, Okaka helping Eder beat the offside trap to beat Brkic with a low finish.
And having surrendered their lead in the first half, they had wrestled it back by the 55th minute, Okaka again providing the assist as Soriano swept up his pass to knock the ball beyond Brkic with his left foot. It took Udinese some time to respond to the comeback but when they did it was through an obvious source.
With nine minutes remaining Fiorillo had to make an incredible save to deny Di Natale, his quick reflexes helping him fly across the goal-line to repel a fearsome drive. Still Di Natale came knocking - three minutes before time the 36-year-old wriggled into a shooting position, only for Fiorillo to deny him once again.
His perseverance paid off 60 seconds later. Substitute Pawel Wszolek offered Di Natale an easy chance to convert his treble when he lost possession in front of Fiorillo, who could do nothing to deny the rampant striker what might be his last-ever goal in Bianconeri colors.