Napoli, the newly crowned champions of Italy, added fresh three points to their tally on Sunday as they returned home to face Fiorentina, welcomed by an ecstatic Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. The contest was settled by a 71st-minute penalty converted by Victor Osimhen.
Scudetto returns to Naples
It wasn’t just the Napoli fans who welcomed their players like heroes to the stadium; Fiorentina players formed a guard of honor and clapped them onto the pitch in a true sportsmanlike manner, making this remarkable occasion even more memorable.
It’s been 33 years since the late Diego Maradona led Napoli to their previous Serie A title, and having named their stadium by him after his passing, the club continue to honor the memory of the great Argentinian legend.
Not that Napoli didn’t have great players and great teams between then and now. Stars like Marek Hamsik, Jorginho, Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, Allan, all came and went. There were coaches like Rafa Benitez, Carlo Ancelotti, Maurizio Sarri, Gennaro Gattuso, and other great names of the game in charge of the team, but none of them managed to beat all competition and bring the Italian crown back to the city in the shadow of the dormant Vesuvius.
At the start of this season, Napoli were expected to take a few years to rebuild their strength as players like Lorenzo Insigne, Kalidou Koulibaly, Arkadiusz Milik, and Fabian Ruiz all left the club. Kim Min-jae, Frank Anguissa, Giacomo Raspadori, and of course, Kvicha Kvaratskhelia arrived, and surpassed the players they had replaced in style.
Little by little, game by game, Luciano Spalletti’s men pulled away from the rest of the pack, ensuring that the very top of the table belonged to them and nobody else. As the season entered its second half, the outcome of the title race was not too difficult to guess.
Unsurprisingly, several players have attracted attention from ‘big’ European clubs and some might well end up leaving Naples this summer, but none of them will forget the success they achieved there. Those who leave will leave with the Serie A medal, a great honor and a great memento of arguably the greatest season of their respective careers so far.
Interestingly enough, though perhaps not surprisingly, it was Fiorentina who had the ball more at their feet (54%) in this game, had a bigger shot total (10-15), and attempted a larger number of passes (423-467) with greater accuracy (84-85%). The visitors also committed more fouls and were caught in offside positions more time than the champions.
It’s clear that Fiorentina showed greater desire to get forward and score throughout the match. They mostly attacked down the left, where Sasa Terzic frequently broke down the touchline and whipped dangerous crosses into the box, but striker Luka Jovic wasn’t able to get on the end of them or simply to control them with enough quality to put Napoli goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini in danger, except once in the first half. But even then Gollini was up to the task.
The Viola had one more notable chance in the first half, when Leo Ostigard slipped on the edge of his box and Jovic pounced, but the Serbian striker was again foiled by Gollini.
For Napoli, Osimhen was often cut off completely upfront, particularly in the first half, and when a pass did find him, he always had too many opponents to deal with. As with Fiorentina, the home team also had two reasonably good chances to score, but first Eljif Elmas and later Osimhen shot wide of the target.
As soon as the second half started, Napoli midfielder Stanislav Lobotka pressed well and stole the ball on the edge of the box, before stepping inside and forcing Sofyan Amrabat to bring him down. Referee Matteo Marchetti had no doubt whatsoever as he blew the whistle and pointed to the spot. Osimhen stepped up, only to see his penalty saved by Pietro Terracciano.
On the hour-mark, Napoli left-back Mathias Olivera combined well with Kvaratskhelia (the Georgian winger had come on from the bench) before pulling a sharp cross through the six yards, but Osimhen couldn’t get there in time to head it in.
It was Kvaratskhelia himself who won the second penalty for his team. He cut inside from the left and entered the box, where he was deemed to have been tripped by Nicolas Gonzalez. Marchetti was very decisive about giving the penalty, though it should perhaps be said that it wasn’t quite as clear-cut as the first one.
Still, Osimhen took the chance to have another go from the spot, and this time he made no mistake.
In the final stages of the game, Gonzalez had a chance to make amends but having been set up nicely by substitute Lorenzo Venuti, he scuffed his shot and missed the target. Christian Kouame also had a chance for an equalizer, probably even better one as Jovic found him with pin-point accuracy through the Napoli defence, but Gollini stepped out to cut the angle and the toe-poke effort went over the bar.
Fiorentina in the middle
This game arguably meant as much to Fiorentina as it did to Napoli from a competitive point of view – very little. At the moment, Vincenzo Italiano’s team are eighth in the Serie A table, 12 points behind seventh-place Roma, and their chances of playing in Europe next season are tied to their fate in this season’s Europa Conference League.
They face Basel in the first leg of the semifinals on Thursday, and that’s where all their energy will be directed at this point.
As for Napoli, congratulations to the Italian champions once more.
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