The 2022/2023 Serie B playoffs left very little to be desired, as they were as exciting as the 38-match season. Thiago Motta's Frosinone won the league and Alberto Gilardino's Genoa finished in second, resulting in automatic promotion for both clubs lead by the 2006 World Cup winners.
This meant that 3rd place to 8th place had to battle out in a playoff knockout tournament. Bari and Parma, who finished 3rd and 4th respectively, automatically qualified for the Semi-Finals, while Cagliari, Sudtirol, Reggina, and Venezia had to battle it out from the Quarter Finals.
The Quarter-Finals are played over a single match, while the Semi-Finals and Final are played over two legs.
QUARTER-FINAL: SUDTIROL - REGGINA
The first match of the playoffs took place in a Quarter-Final showdown which saw Sudtirol emerge victorious against Reggina thanks to a late goal by Casiraghi to secure a 1-0 victory.
Reggina dominated proceedings in the first half, launching relentless attacks. Majer tested Poluzzi with a powerful long-range shot, while Odogwu tried to penetrate the defense. The game's tempo decreased, with both teams engaging in midfield battles. Reggina, managed by Filippo Inzaghi, defended well and closed the gaps to maintain compactness. Sudtirol struggled to generate offensive momentum, with their best chance falling to Di Chiara, who misfired. The 2nd half started with chances for both sides. Rover had a good chance for Sudtirol, but it was Reggina who continued to threaten. Hernani's long-range strike forced a diving save from Poluzzi. Inzaghi's team grew into it, with Canotto & Strelec combining well. Strelec's shot rebounded off the post after a fine save from the goalkeeper. Masiello suffered an injury and was replaced by Vinetot. Reggina remained dangerous, with Hernani's venomous free-kick requiring Poluzzi's intervention. Canotto attempted a delicate chip, but it sailed over the crossbar. Belardinelli's effort was deflected, while Majer's precise shot was brilliantly saved by Poluzzi. The match seemed destined for a goalless draw until the 89th minute. With just a minute remaining, Casiraghi capitalized on a deflection from Loiacono and beat Contini to secure the decisive goal for Sudtirol. The Druso stadium erupted in celebration as the home team emerged triumphant.
Sudtirol advanced to the playoff semifinals, with Bari awaiting.
QUARTER-FINAL: CAGLIARI - VENEZIA
The Quarter-Final clash between Cagliari and Venezia saw the top scorers of the Serie B season, Lapadula and Pohjanpalo, facing off at a fiery Unipol Domus.
Lapadula stole the spotlight, scoring twice. In the 15th minute, he nodded in a cross from Nandez to break the deadlock.
Just 4 minutes later, Lapadula displayed incredible skill and composure, calmly guiding the ball past Carboni and beating Joronen. It was a quickfire double (his 4th brace this season) that left Venezia struggling. Nandez almost added a 3rd with a delicate chip right before HT.
Venezia's coach, Vanoli, made effective substitutions that brought immediate results. In the 52nd minute, Pierini (replacing Candela) capitalized on Ellertsson's run to head the ball into the net, giving Venezia hope. The momentum shifted, and Venezia pressed forward with renewed determination, testing Cagliari's defense with Pohjanpalo leading the charge. Ranieri responded with strategic substitutions to bolster the team's defense and counterattacks. Cagliari held firm, enduring 5 minutes of stoppage time. Hristov's late header was the closest scare for Cagliari, but it missed the target by inches. Cagliari's dominant performance set the stage for an exciting semifinal clash against Parma.
SEMI-FINAL: SUDTIROL - BARI
The first leg of the Semi-Final saw Sudtirol take on Bari in their stadium. This time, the winner would emerge after two legs.
The first half at Druso Stadium was tight. Sudtirol dominated possession, but Bari's solid defense kept them at bay. Opportunities were scarce, with a lone shot on target from Cheddira. Both teams were striving to break the deadlock.
Bari started the 2nd half aggressively. Esposito's long-range effort was deflected, while Cheddira missed a good opportunity. In the 74th, Sudtirol came close with Rover's assist, but Mazzocchi's shot went wide. The game appeared settled until a stunning twist in injury time. In the 92nd minute, Casiraghi broke through, delivering a cross into the box. Rover rose high and headed home the crucial goal, securing a vital 1-0 win. Sudtirol celebrated a pivotal triumph. Bisoli's squad continued their magical run!
The second leg of the Semi-Final was played in Bari's incredible stadium, in front of 52,000 spectators, Bari secured a spot in the playoff final for Serie A promotion with a 1-0 victory over Sudtirol. This result mirrored the 1-0 scoreline from the first leg, where Bisoli's team had emerged as the victors. With both teams having scored the same number of goals, Bari secured their place in the final due to their higher league position, finishing third compared to Sudtirol's sixth.
Despite being reduced to ten men after Ricci's red card at the end of the first half, Bari persevered and found the decisive goal in the 70th minute through substitute Benedetti.
Benedetti, who had just entered the pitch, received a pass from Folorunsho inside the box and expertly placed it into the corner, triggering wild celebrations among the record-breaking crowd.
The match was filled with opportunities and intensity. Bari showcased their attacking prowess early on, pressuring their opponents and creating chances through Cheddira and Esposito. The visitors found it challenging to gain momentum, with Odogwu often left isolated by his teammates. Cheddira came close to scoring in the 34th minute but missed the target. In added time, Poluzzi made a spectacular save to deny Vicari's header, ensuring the score remained level at halftime.
Despite being a player down, Bari did not relent. Esposito tested Poluzzi with a curling shot from the left, but the Sudtirol defense held firm. In the second half, Bari made strategic substitutions, bringing on Folorunsho, Benedetti, and Botta. Just a minute after Vinetot left the field for treatment, Folorunsho delivered a cross from the right, and Benedetti calmly found the back of the net. The 70th-minute goal sent the San Nicola stadium into jubilation, marking Benedetti's fourth goal of the season.
In the remaining minutes, Bari focused on managing their one-goal lead rather than launching further attacks. Sudtirol made a late push, but Carretta's volley narrowly missed the target in stoppage time.
Bari emerged as the victors and secured their place in the playoff final where they awaited the winner between Parma and Cagliari to determine their fate in the quest for Serie A promotion.
SEMI-FINAL: CAGLIARI - PARMA
The first leg of the Semi-Final between Cagliari and Parma saw an incredible comeback, as Cagliari came back from 0-2 down to defeat Parma 3-2.
Angolan striker Zito Luvumbo emerged as the hero of the match, scoring a goal, winning a penalty converted by Lapadula, and ultimately sealing the comeback victory.
Parma had seemed in control with goals from Benedyczak and Sohm, but defensive errors allowed Cagliari to stage an impressive recovery.
The match at Unipol Domus was filled with opportunities right from the start. Cagliari, led by Lapadula as the lone striker, pushed forward with Pavoletti, Mancosu, and Nandez supporting the attack.
However, it was Parma who took the lead with a well-executed team move. Vazquez initiated the play, passing to Sohm, who then set up Benedyczak to score with his right foot in the 9th minute. Shortly after, the Argentine attacking midfielder missed a chance, while Mancosu tested Buffon from distance on a counterattack. The tempo was high, but Cagliari struggled to respond.
In the second half, Buffon was replaced by Chichizola due to a calf injury, while Cagliari made substitutions with Luvumbo and Deiola coming on for Pavoletti and Rog. Manager Ranieri shuffled the pack to overturn the two-goal deficit. Cagliari increased the pressure but struggled to find the breakthrough against a resilient Parma defense. However, at the 68th minute, Cobbaut's lapse allowed Nandez to beat him on the right and deliver a cross that Luvumbo volleyed with his left foot to make it 1-2.
Parma's defensive lapses continued, and at the 83rd minute, Mihaila fouled Luvumbo in the box, resulting in a penalty. Lapadula stepped up and converted, taking his tally to 24 goals in the league and playoffs. In the final moments, another twist occurred as Lapadula's cross from the right found Luvumbo, who controlled the ball and calmly netted the winner at the 89th minute, completing Cagliari's remarkable comeback.
The match ended 3-2, setting up an exciting showdown at the Tardini for the final encounter.
The second leg of the Quarter-Final between Parma and Cagliari all came down to a matter of centimeters.
Bonny, shortly after coming on, fired a shot that hit the crossbar and then bounced off the goal line. It looked like a goal, and the Tardini Stadium erupted in celebration but VAR turned the dream into a nightmare: the ball had to fully cross the line, and it didn't.
As the minutes passed, Parma poured their hearts into the game, but their composure waned. The first half was balanced, with fear playing a part. Two incidents stood out: protests for Sohm's fall in the box and Lapadula's disallowed goal for offside.
In the second half, Parma dominated possession, but spaces were tightly closed off. The two managers made adjustments, with Pecchia seeking a more offensive solution. In the final moments, it was Cagliari who came closest to scoring and thus the first leg decided the match.
Cagliari received ten minutes of applause from under the stands, and even 15 minutes later, the Tardini Stadium remained full. Cagliari advanced to the final to play Bari.
FINAL: CAGLIARI BARI
The playoff final first leg between Cagliari and Bari ended in a 1-1 draw at the Unipol Domus.
Lapadula opened the scoring for Cagliari with a header in the 9th minute, while Radunovic's outstanding performance in goal kept Bari at bay. He saved Cheddira's penalty at the 37th minute and denied numerous chances for the opposition.
However, in the 95th minute, Antenucci converted a penalty after a collision between Altare and Folorunsho, equalizing the score.
The second leg of the playoff final was an epic finale. Cagliari came into this one at a disadvantage, as a draw would have seen Bari earn promotion. On top of this, the match was being played in the Stadio San Nicola in front of 58000 fans.
This match saw heartbreak for Bari as Cagliari's Pavoletti sealed their promotion to Serie A with a last-minute goal. Cagliari triumphed 0-1, and earned promotion to Serie A after a year in Serie B. Cagliari started strong, putting pressure in midfield, and Luvumbo was unstoppable on the left. Although they missed some early chances, they kept pushing. Ranieri made tactical substitutions, bringing on Prelec and Mancosu for Di Pardo and Lella, injecting more attacking power. Caprile continued to make crucial saves, denying Mancosu's header from a free-kick. The tension was palpable. Bari seemed destined for promotion until the 94th minute when Pavoletti, who came on as a late substitute, scored with his left foot, beating Zuzek to secure Cagliari's victory. In 1988, a young Claudio Ranieri joined Cagliari in Serie C and lead them to two successive promotions to Serie A. In December 2022, a 71 year old Ranieri came in with the task of bringing struggling Cagliari back to Serie A. He could be seen bursting into tears at the final whistle.
What an incredible run by an incredible team! It feels great to have the Sardinians back in Serie A.