- Associated Press - Thursday, April 30, 2015

EMPOLI, Italy (AP) - Napoli’s recent run of form came to an end at Empoli with a 4-2 defeat in Serie A on Thursday, a severe dent to its hopes of qualifying for next year’s Champions League.

A fantastic finish to the first half saw Empoli go in at the break with a commanding 3-0 lead after goals from Massimo Maccarone and Riccardo Saponara, either side of Miguel Angel Britos’ own goal.

An own goal from Empoli defender Vincent Laurini gave Napoli a foothold in the game but another own goal from Raul Albiol sealed the match for the home side.

Marek Hamsik scored a late consolation for Napoli, which remained five points behind third-place Roma in the race for third place, with five matches remaining.

It’s only route now into the Champions League appears to be winning the Europa League.

Empoli moved level with 14th-placed Udinese, and was all but guaranteed to avoid relegation.

“It was a great satisfaction, we have beaten a great team,” said Maccarone after netting his 10th goal of the season. “We were missing a win against a big team to crown our amazing season. We have shown we deserve to stay in Serie A. Napoli was the team which was most in form at the moment.

“Here, there are so many young players, they make me feel young (at 35). I’m only thinking about training, I feel good, and I hope to be able to continue for a few more years. I’m enjoying myself.”

After a dismal run, Napoli had won three successive Serie A matches and was further boosted by reaching the semifinals of the Europa League.

However, Empoli got off to the perfect start when Maccarone put it in front in the eighth minute, finising off a lovely team move by blasting Manuel Pucciarelli’s flick under Napoli goalkeeper Mariano Andujar.

Empoli doubled its lead in somewhat comical circumstances three minutes from halftime as Andujar punched away Saponara’s cross but the ball hit Britos in the face and ricocheted into the back of the net from six yards.

The home side extended its lead moments later following a delightful one-two between Daniele Croce and Pucciarelli, whose shot was beaten away by Andujar but only as far as Saponara, who fired in the rebound with a scissor-kick volley.

Napoli got back into the game shortly after the hour when Empoli goalkeeper Luigi Sepe - who is on loan from Napoli - parried Hamsik’s effort but it bounced off Laurini and went in.

However, Napoli’s hopes of getting something from the match evaporated when Albiol netted his second own goal in as many matches nine minutes from time, deflecting a free kick into his own net.

Napoli grabbed a controversial consolation in stoppage time as defender Kalidou Koulibaly appeared to be offside as he jumped to let Hamsik’s effort go into the bottom corner.

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