In the sweltering heat of East London, Napoli’s pre season campaign continued with a high profile friendly match against former Azzurri legend Gianfranco Zola’s West Ham side. The match was played in honour of Hammers legend Bobby Moore in an effort to raise money for the cancer charity named after him.
Roberto Donadoni took an almost full strength squad to Upton Park to see if his side could improve on a dismal showing three nights earlier in front of over 40,000 spectators in the San Paolo stadium. On that night a goalless draw against Spanish side Espanyol took the gloss off a Hollywood style team presentation 24 hours earlier on a naval vessel in the port of Naples – Aurelio De Laurentiis acting as movie director, in a show that would have not looked out of place at an Oscar ceremony. After a turgid 90 minutes, an x-rated showing by his new look squad left him fuming, with most of his vitriol being aimed at Coach Donadoni and his team selections. In London, Napoli took to the field in an experimental 4-4-2 formation with new signing Morgan De Sanctis in goal and Gianluca Grava, Fabiano Santacroce, Leandro Rinaudo and Matteo Contini making up the back four. In midfield was Jesús Dátolo, Marek Hamšik, new boy Luca Cigarini and Michele Pazienza, while up front were the attacking duo of Ezequiel Lavezzi and the big summer signing Fabio Quagliarella.
The early pressure came from the visitors, as Hamšik and Lavezzi displayed their burgeoning talents to an enthralled audience, and some neat combination plays were an absolute joy to watch. West Ham were struggling to cope with the interchanging of the front two of Napoli, Quagliarella drifting out wide to receive the passes from his midfield as Lavezzi played in a more central role and vice versa. De Sanctis was finally called upon on 13 minutes when a foul on Kieren Dyer resulted in former Inter Milan star Luis Jiménez curling a wicked free kick into the Napoli penalty area that the new goalkeeper dealt with quite easily. The next 15 minutes belonged to the hosts, West Ham playmaker Scott Parker was becoming more involved in the game but De Sancis was never really troubled and the pressure subsided. The remainder of the half was relatively quiet and a scoreless first half was a fair reflection on things. Surprisingly, Donadoni left his side unchanged after the interval. On 54 minutes came the games best chance as the busy Parker managed to take the ball around De Sanctis but the angle was too acute and he shot wide. Doanadoni then switched to his favoured 3-5-2 formation as Christian Maggio replaced Grava and another new acquisition, Hugo Campagnaro, replaced Rinaudo and Manuele Blasi entered the fray with Pazienza making way.
The heat seemed to take the energy out of the game with both sides struggling to find any consistency, on 66 minutes German Denis replaced the excellent Lavezzi and Santacroce made way for Salvatore Aronica. Blasi was booked for a bad lunge on Savio Nsereko then two minutes later came the breakthrough. Maggio launched a speculative ball from the halfway line and Quagliarella brilliantly flicked the ball with his head over the static Robert Green in the Hammers’ goal, a wonderful piece of intuitive play from their new acquisition. Suddenly the competitive edge returned to the game with tempers seeming to rise in the humidity. On 84 minutes Blasi made another crass tackle on Herita Ilunga right in front of the dugouts, and an incensed Zola immediately sprung to his feet as referee Keith Stroud produced the red card. Napoli were hanging on now as the home side increased the pressure but it was to no avail, the end of three minutes of added time signalled the games conclusion. Napoli had won their first piece of silverware as Stephanie Moore, wife of Bobby, presented the Bobby Moore cup to a delighted Napoli squad. As the players milked the applause from the massive travelling army from Campania, Donadoni had gone some way to banishing their blues from earlier in the week.
This had been the Partenopei’s fifth pre season game, and their record stands at four wins and a draw. As we head into the final two weeks of preparation for the start of the new campaign it seems Donadoni is still unsure whether to stick with his tried and tested 3-5-2 formation or go with the more conventional 4-4-2. The evidence of Saturday suggests the former.