MILAN (AP) A look at Spal, Hellas Verona and Benevento as the promoted teams prepare for the start of the Italian league season this weekend.
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Few outside of Italy will have heard about Societa Polisportiva Ars et Labor, to give Spal its full name.
The northeastern club has spent a total of 21 seasons in Serie A and launched the career of Fabio Capello. Before going on to win titles as a player and coach with AC Milan, Juventus and Roma, Capello played in Spal’s penultimate Serie A campaign in 1966-67.
It’s been a long way back to the top flight for the first time since 1968.
Spal has also gone through bankruptcy and been refounded twice – in 2005 and 2012. But it managed to recover from that latest setback to climb back to Serie A in just five years thanks in part to 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.
Coach Leonardo Semplici has been the mastermind behind Spal’s climb up the leagues, after the former Fiorentina youth team coach took charge at the end of 2014.
Spal prided itself on having an all-Italian side. That is no more after Greek defender Marios Oikonomou and Brazilian center back Felipe joined in the offseason.
Italian forward Alberto Paloschi has also joined and he will be hoping to revive his career after disappointing spells at Swansea and Atalanta.
Semplici’s team has a good mix of experience and youth, including 20-year-old goalkeeper Alex Meret, who was called up to the Italy squad last season.
Hellas Verona has bounced straight back up to Serie A, a year after being relegated from the top flight.
It will be a debut in the top division for coach Fabio Pecchia, however, who earned promotion in his first season in charge after stints as Rafa Benitez’s assistant at Napoli, Real Madrid and Newcastle.
The 43-year-old Pecchia will look for advice to Alessio Cerci and Giampaolo Pazzini, who both have something to prove.
Cerci is looking to reboot his career after a dramatic loss of form following his departure from Torino three years ago, while Pazzini is hoping he can take his goal scoring exploits back to Serie A.
Pazzini has only scored 12 goals in his past three seasons in the top flight – including six in 30 appearances the season Verona was relegated – but the former AC Milan and Italy forward was given the captain’s armband last season and responded with 23 league goals, making him top scorer in Serie B.
Pre-season preparations were overshadowed by the Antonio Cassano saga.
Cassano, who had not played football for more than a year joined Verona at the beginning of July but eight days later he informed the club he was retiring for family reasons before announcing he had changed his mind later that day. However, less than a week later he quit the club for a second time.
Benevento is the latest Italian side to enjoy a fairytale first-ever promotion to Serie A.
It will be hoping to avoid the fate of Carpi and Frosinone, who went straight back down two seasons ago, and instead emulate Crotone which pulled off the great escape last season.
It has been an incredible rise for Benevento which went bankrupt in 2005 and restarted in Italy’s fourth division in 2007.
The southern club was in the third division as recent as 2015/16 but back-to-back promotions have lifted it into Serie A for the first time in its 88-year history.
Under Marco Baroni, Benevento also became the first club to win immediate promotion to the top flight in its first ever season in Serie B.
It did so by finishing fifth in the regular season and beating Carpi in a playoff final.
George Puscas scored the winning goal in that final and his loan from Inter Milan has been extended. Benevento will be relying on the Romanian striker for goals as well as Fabio Ceravolo, who netted 20 goals last season.
It has also brought in Colombian striker Alexis Zapata on loan from Udinese and midfielder Danilo Cataldi also on loan from Lazio.
Benevento is a town of less than 60,000 inhabitants to the north-east of Naples.
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