When most people heard Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis claim that his side would fight for Champions League qualification last summer they disregarded it as mere rhetoric from the Italian filmmaker.
However, come January with Napoli occupying the final European spot just a point adrift of third placed Roma, these critics are eating some humble pie. Since Walter Mazzarri took over the reins of the Partenopei in early October, the team has embarked on an amazing unbeaten run. The side has shown some remarkable tenacity and the draw with Milan followed by victory over Juventus were perfect examples of what this side is capable of achieving.
The Azzurri made some excellent investments in the summer and now the results are payoffs for the same. Fabio Quagliarella was always destined to star but the purchases of Morgan De Sanctis, Hugo Campagnaro and Luca Cigarini have also yielded excellent returns. De Sanctis has been very impressive this season and has already kept eight clean sheets so far. His performances have seen him being called up by Marcello Lippi for the national side and should he continue this run, he is bound to be on the plane to South Africa. The forwards too have been in fine form and Germán Denis has a habit of popping in with a goal at the crucial moments. Marek Hamsik is having another brilliant season and is showing just why he is coveted by all the sides in the peninsula. The Slovenian has scored eight times this season and his partnership with Quagliarella is looking like one of the best in the country.
The question now is can Napoli sustain their sparkling form and actually achieve Champions League qualification. Paolo Cannavaro, the captain was quoted today saying: “To be in our position in the league is a source of pride” and he believes that “the team can legitimately aspire for Europe.” The good news for the Neapolitans is that the Championship is very close this season. As the Scudetto is surely ending up in Milan one way or another, the rest of the teams can concentrate on the European spots. Only six points separate third-placed Roma from 10th-placed Parma. Interestingly, apart from Roma who are themselves undefeated since November, all the other teams are showing signs of fallibility. Juventus are in crisis but the management for some reason seems reluctant to acknowledge the fact. Fiorentina’s domestic form is far off from their European results and last week’s unexpected home loss to Bologna prevented the side from moving up the table.
And although there are teams like Palermo, Catania, Bari and Parma still in with a shout for Champions League qualification it will be two of Roma, Napoli, Juventus and Fiorentina who will go through. If Mazzarri can keep wielding his magic at Naples it is very much possible that the Stadio San Paolo witnesses Europe’s elite descend on its grounds since the days of the great Diego Maradona. The Partenopei certainly have the side to go all the way and they will relish the chance to bring joy back to the south of Italy, a mere five years after the team found itself in Serie C1.