With Europe in sight, Parma is regaining its pride

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              Parma's Simone Iacoponi, right, and Sassuolo's Kevin-Prince Boateng vie for the ball during a  Serie A soccer match between Parma and Sassuolo at Ennio Tardini Stadium in Parma, Italy, Sunday Nov. 25, 2018. (Elisabetta Baracchi/ANSA via AP)
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ROME (AP) — Already the first Italian club to earn three straight promotions, Parma is in position to add another chapter to its fairytale-like rise.

Three years after being declared bankrupt and being forced to restart in Serie D, the squad nicknamed the “Crusaders” is sixth in Serie A and occupies one of the Italian league’s Europa League places.

“It seems like I’m still dreaming,” Parma president Pietro Pizzarotti said. “Thinking about everything that has happened from 2015 to today I have a hard time finding an explanation.

“There are no secrets behind our rise. We simply wanted to show that we weren’t all failures. And that means everyone: the club management, the players, the coaches and above all the fans,” Pizzarotti told the Gazzetta dello Sport. “Pride creates miracles. But I still keep watching our backs. Our goal is avoiding relegation.”

Led by former Roma striker Gervinho — who has scored five goals in nine appearances — and Portugal center back Bruno Alves, Parma has put together a series of unexpected results for a promoted club.

Belief began building in September when Parma played solid against seven-time defending Serie A champion Juventus, which needed a second-half goal for a 2-1 victory.

Two weeks later came a 1-0 win over Inter Milan at the San Siro. And now Parma is on a three-match unbeaten run, capped by a victory over regional rival Sassuolo last weekend.

Up next: another visit to the San Siro to face AC Milan in Sunday’s lunchtime match.

With 20 points through 13 matches, Parma is halfway toward meeting its objective of 40 points — which is usually enough to avoid relegation.

“We’ve got to reach 40 points as soon as possible and then we’ll see,” Parma midfielder Luca Siligardi said. “We’re going to the San Siro aiming to win. That’s for sure. … We’re going to bring the same intensity that we showed against Inter.”

A quarter century ago, Parma was a force in Italian and European soccer, winning three Italian Cups (1992, ’99 and 2002) and two UEFA Cups (1995 and ’99) featuring players like Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram and Fabio Cannavaro.

But the 2003-04 collapse of owner Parmalat in what remains one of Europe’s biggest bankruptcy and fraud cases initiated a downward spiral that bottomed out with another bankruptcy case in 2015 after more ownership trouble.

The current ownership is more stable under local business leaders like Pizzarotti (who owns a construction and civil engineering company), Guido Barilla (chairman and CEO of the Barilla pasta company) and racing car developer Gian Paolo Dallara.

Parma coach Roberto D’Aversa has been with the club since December 2016, leading it up the final two rungs of the promotion ladder. And at the age of 40, Daniele Faggiano is the youngest sporting director in Serie A.

“We’re going to have to battle down to the last round of the season,” D’Aversa said. “Let’s keep our feet on the ground.”