ROME: Napoli’s hopes of European football next season suffered a setback with a 1-0 defeat at struggling Empoli which left them eighth in Serie A.

Empoli opened the scoring after four minutes when striker Alberto Cerri headed in a close-range cross for what proved to be the winner.

Serie A is set to secure at least five spots in an expanded Champions League competition next season but Napoli have taken only five points from their last five league matches.

Napoli stay on 49 points, three points off Lazio in sixth, six points behind AS Roma, in fifth with two games in hand, and 10 adrift of fourth-placed Bologna, who visit Roma on Monday.

Empoli are 15th with 31 points, four points clear of the drop zone.

Napoli coach Francesco Calzona said: “Clearly, this club have had notorious problems this season. I honestly did not expect to find the situation like this. Playing every three days, we managed to hide some of the issues, but this team has got to do more, we owe it to the city, to the club that pays our wages.

“Clearly, if we don’t win games and even lose them, it is difficult to think about reaching this [European qualifying] target. We must try in every way to honour the jersey, to give more and above all to start stronger.”

Empoli dominated much of the first half after Cerri’s goal and came close to doubling their lead when Nicolo Cambiaghi hit the post just before the break.

In the second period, Napoli pushed forward trying to find an equaliser but failed to create any clear openings as Empoli’s defence dug in.

Napoli winger Kvicha Kvaratskhelia came close just past the hour mark when he tricked his way past several defenders to create an opening but his shot went over the bar.