Napoli’s unlikely Scudetto challenge took a blow on Monday night, as they were controversially defeated 2-1 by Milan at the Stadio San Paolo. Walter Mazzarri’s men will now have to try and get back on track at the weekend when they travel to Brescia on the day that Diego Maradona turns 50.
Napoli’s clash with Milan was their first meeting with one of Serie A’s big boys this season, and Mazzarri was left ruing some debateable refereeing decisions that led to their narrow loss. The captain, Paolo Cannavaro, was missing through suspension, so Gianluca Grava, Hugo Campagnaro and Salvatore Aronica were selected in defence, with Morgan De Sanctis in goal. Christian Maggio, Michele Pazienza, Walter Gargano and Andrea Dossena made up the midfield, with Marek Hamšik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani in attack.
Milan took a first-half lead when Massimo Oddo’s cut-back was passed into the far corner by Robinho, with the Brazilian given far too much space inside the box to pick his spot. Two minutes later, Maggio clashed heads with Milan’s Luca Antonini, requiring the Napoli winger to be hospitalised. Things got worse for the hosts on the brink of half-time, when Michele Pazienza was red carded. The midfielder collected two bookings for handball in the space of just a few minutes. The handball was arguably sloppy positioning from Pazienza, but Mazzarri claimed the decision was harsh.
With 19 minutes left, more ball-watching in the Napoli defence allowed Zlatan Ibrahimović to head in Oddo’s cross, making it 2-0. However, 10-man Napoli had been dragged on all evening by the tireless Lavezzi, whose endless running and harrying kept his side in the match. In the 78th minute, Lavezzi had his reward in bizarre fashion. The Argentine burst through on goal, and was tripped in the box, but he somehow got to his feet and despite being almost knocked to the ground again, sustained his balance and flicked the ball over the goalkeeper. It was a brilliant effort in its own right, and no more than Lavezzi’s inspirational performance deserved.
After the final whistle, which saw Napoli drop to sixth in Serie A, Mazzarri complained: “The referee must show consistency in all situations in the same game – a handball for Napoli, a handball for Milan.” The Coach was, of course, referring to the dismissal of Pazienza. He also believed that Napoli could have had two penalties, one for a Milan handball, and one after Lavezzi was fouled. But Cannavaro, whose one-match ban ruled him out of the match, praised Lavezzi’s contribution, while also paying tribute to the club’s greatest ever player, Maradona, who will celebrate his 50th birthday at the weekend. Cannavaro, who will return to play Brescia on Sunday, said: “For us Diego was everything. It’s right that he is celebrated all over Naples. We will dedicate him the three points if we win. We are thinking about getting a positive result. His free-kick against Juventus was the most beautiful goal, it went against all the rules. Lavezzi scored a goal that was just as beautiful against Milan. Champions are like this and fortunately Lavezzi plays with us.” At the moment, it is unknown how Maradona’s birthday will be celebrated. There will undoubtedly be incredible parties everywhere in the city of Naples, but whether the Argentina icon will be present is unknown. Due to tax irregularities with the Italian authorities that date back to his playing days with the Vesuviani, Maradona is liable to pay huge sums of money if he comes back to Italy.
With the transfer window soon to reopen, there have been more rumours surfacing about potential new recruits at the San Paolo. The wildest rumour, reported in the Italian press, was the alleged arrival of Juventus striker Amauri. The Brazilian-born Italian international was bought by Juve two years ago for a big-money fee but has seen his progress in Turin hampered by injuries. Although Juve have no obvious plans to offload him, Napoli were credited with an interest. Amauri actually had a low-profile loan stint at the San Paolo ten years ago, but the player’s agent Giampiero Pocetta denied a possible return, saying: “There’s no truth to it. The player doesn’t figure in Napoli’s plans.”
Napoli have plenty of time to ponder any transfers, and President Aurelio De Laurentiis has confirmed that he wants to strengthen the team in January. First, though, Napoli face Brescia this weekend, who have lost their previous four matches and are at the wrong end of the Serie A table. Pazienza will be suspended and Maggio may be injured, but Cannavaro returns from suspension to lead his hometown club into the clash.