The Push for Promotion: The Madness of the Serie B Playoffs

Serie B Pisa

Across Europe, the push for promotion is in full swing as teams are running out of time to return to the top tiers. Many of these leagues share almost identical rules. In England, Fulham and Bournemouth have clinched promotion, and four teams are facing each other in the playoffs for promotion. In Spain, the second tier operates in essentially the same way.

Germany makes it even more simple, with the top two teams from the Bundesliga 2 earning automatic promotions, and the third-placed Bundesliga 2 team playing the 16th-placed Bundesliga team. France essentially has a combination of these two systems. But Italy? They don’t bother with that.

Promotion Rules

Instead, promotion from the Italian Serie B happens in the most confusing way possible. The top two teams, like in most other European leagues, gain automatic promotion. That’s where the similarities end. Teams that finish third through eighth play in a six-team playoff, with one team receiving promotion.

The third and fourth placed teams (Pisa and Monza, more on them later) receive a bye into the semi-finals of the playoff. The sixth-placed team (Ascoli) plays the seventh-placed team (Benevento), whilst the fifth-placed team (Brescia) play the eighth-placed team (Perugia). Confused yet?

This first round is a single match which extends to 120 minutes if it ends in a tie. Then, presumably, if it is still a tie, the match goes to penalties? Nope. After two hours of playing, the higher ranked team advances automatically.

The semi-finals get even more complex. Each semi-final has two matches, and they combine the scores to get the aggregate result. The winner of the aggregate score advances to the Serie B final. If the score is equal after two matches, then the higher-placed team gets promotion.

Strangely, the final differs, going to extra-time and a penalty shoot-out if the scores are level.

So, to summarize: six teams, 14 matches, one winner.

The Candidates

Pisa SC haven’t played in the Serie A since 1991, and have had their fair share of struggles. The Tuscan-based side at one point sunk to the fifth-division of Italy, but recent investment is turning things around. Recent signee Lorenzo Lucca is gaining attention, with ten goal contributions this season. This season they finished third, so all tied matches would go in their favor.

Pisa finished directly above rivals AC Monza, owned by former AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi. Unlike Pisa, Monza have never played in the Serie A. However, since Berlusconi’s arrival, the club is pushing for promotion and bringing in big-name players—Mario Balotelli and Kevin-Prince Boateng both played last season. This season, striker Dany Mota has proven to be a more than capable replacement in their absence.

Another of Mario Balotelli’s former clubs, Brescia Calcio, are also in the promotion hunt. Despite the presence of the controversial Balotelli and brilliant midfielder Sandro Tonali, they were relegated in 2020. Last season, Brescia went out in the first round of the promotion playoffs, but will look to exorcise those demons in this year’s first round against Perugia.

Ascoli Calcio might be familiar to some fans over in the States, as they are under the ownership of the American North Sixth Group (fitting that they finished sixth in the league). Newly purchased, Ascoli are aiming to return to the Serie A for the first time since 2007. This has a less-Hollywood-like AFC Wrexham feel to it—a historic club aiming to become relevant once again because of American owners.

Ascoli’s opponents are Benevento Calcio, who are fresh off of Serie A relegation. Benevento had a strong season and may be considered favorites for promotion. Remarkably, they had the Serie B’s second best goal differential despite finishing seventh. They’ll be boosted by the return of striker Gianluca Lapadula and midfielder Mattia Viviani, a player I am a huge fan of.

The final promotion candidate is AC Perugia, a team that demonstrates the precarious state of Italian clubs’ finances like few others can. Seriously—they’ve been re-founded three times, including twice since the turn of the century. They’ll depend on their defense to help them through the playoffs—only one team conceded fewer goals this season.


The Serie B playoffs are, in a word, fascinating. Filled with complicated rules and underdog teams, it results in a thrilling end of season playoff to determine who will play in the Serie A next season. One thing’s for sure: it’ll be can’t-miss.

Image Courtesy of Daniele Napolitano, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

This post has been updated.

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