ROME (AP) – Beneath a giant mural of Diego MaradonaAnd Napoli fans celebrated The Italian Football League title as if they were at the match – singing, jumping and lighting torches.
On the other side of NaplesAt the stadium now named after Maradona, tributes to the club’s most recognizable player were everywhere: his image on banners, flags and scarves, his number 10 on the back of shirts.
As Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said after Partenopi clinched his first league title since Maradona led the team to the 1987 and 1990 championships, the legacy of the late Argentine star made a difference.
“These fans have seen great coaches come and go. They have seen Diego Armando Maradona play and perhaps his influence is also felt in this success,” said Spalletti.
Unlike the Maradona years, this Napoli title was not about a single player but rather a well-managed unit that often beat opponents who excelled in every department: goalscoring leader Victor Osimhen up front, league assistant Khavisa Kvaratskilia on the left. Wing pass expert Stanislav Lobotka In midfield and the physical presence of Kim Min-jae in central defense – not to mention their veteran coach.
Napoli clinched the trophy with a 1-1 draw at Udinese on Thursday.
Osimhen equalized for Napoli early in the second half by redirecting the rebound after Sandy Lovric had put Udinese ahead early on.
“I am happy for all the Napoli fans around the world,” said Osimhen. “Nobody deserves the Scudetto more than the Neapolitans – more than us.
“I don’t care who scored, I just wanted to get the scudetto.”
Napoli have an indomitable 16-point lead over second-placed Lazio with five rounds to go.
Along with 11,000 Napoli fans inside and 5,000 more outside the stadium in Udine, northern Italy, a crowd of more than 50,000 spectators watched the match on huge screens at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium in Naples.
“Napoli, this one’s for you,” said Spalletti. “There are people here who will be able to get through the difficult moments in their lives because they remember this moment. These people deserve all the joy.”
In Udine, celebrating fans invaded the pitch at the final whistle, while in Napoli there were fireworks and raves.
“You always told me, ‘We want to win,’ and now we have won. We all won together,” Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis told the crowd at the Napoli stadium before embracing Napoli mayor Gaetano Manfredi.
De Laurentiis took over the club in 2004 when Napoli was declared bankrupt, returning to the third division.
“This is the culmination of a dream that lasted 33 years,” De Laurentiis added. “It was a long process.”
This is the first time that a team from the south of the traditional soccer capitals of Milan and Turin has won the league since Roma won the title in 2001.
Napoli equaled his winning record with five rounds remaining, sharing it with Torino (1947-1948), Fiorentina (1955-56), Inter Milan (2006-2007) and Juventus (2018-19).
In the 52nd minute, Osimhen rebounded off a shot from Kvaratskhelia after a corner kick.
During his goal celebration, Osimhen broke his face mask and the Nigeria striker was forced to play without him for a few minutes while he was repaired by members of the Napoli team on the sidelines.
It was Osimhen’s 22nd league goal this season and the 46th goal in his career in Serie A, matching former Milan star and current Liberian president George Weah as the top African scorer in Italy.
After that, Osimhen – who has admitted his desire to play in the Premier League one day – will not commit to staying with Napoli.
“I want to enjoy this moment for the rest of my life. After the season, my other dreams can come,” said Osimhen. “But now is not the time to talk about my other dreams. I wanted to win this. … For me this is just a moment. “
Napoli witnessed a short lapse during the first half, during which Lovric found space inside the area for quick control and an angled shot inside the far post in the 13th.
Napoli dominated all season and were unbeaten in the league until they were defeated by Inter in January. A 5-1 win over Juventus nine days later left no doubt that this was Partenopi’s year.
Despite this, Napoli was not even considered a contender for the title Ahead of the season due to the departure of former captain Lorenzo Insigne, the club’s top scorer Dries Mertens and defensive victory Kalidou Koulibaly.
But Osimhen has developed into the most dangerous striker in the league, and dribbling wizard Kvaratskhelia has done more than replace Insigne on the left wing as one of Europe’s biggest revelations this season.
The title also gives Spalletti the one honor he craved after previously leading Roma and Inter and winning two Russian league titles with Zenit St Petersburg.
Spalletti’s innovative style first showed promise at Udinese nearly two decades ago when he led the regional club to fourth place and a place in the Champions League. Udinese coach Andrea Sutil played under Spalletti at Udinese.
“The fans deserve it,” said Napoli captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo, his hair dyed Naples blue from the dressing room celebration. “I felt like we were playing in Napoli today.”
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