And so, as the flare clouds cleared and the De Kuip faithful made their way to the exits, Napoli’s Champions League campaign was over. A sad end to a campaign which many had hoped would yield more magical nights like those witnessed with the visit of Real Madrid last season.
Alas, we have reached a juncture in our season where Europe’s elite go one way while we take another path; the Europa League. For me, elimination from the Champions League was always going to happen tonight, because Pep Guardiola for all his lavish praise and borderline sycophantic behaviour, could not and essentially would not allow Napoli to return further down the line to punish him.
Despite the promises of a strong travelling squad, it would very much be second string that took on Shakhtar and the Ukrainians made them pay, romping to a 2-0 lead and never looking back. We could have scored ten in Rotterdam, it would have meant absolutely nothing.
I’ve seen fans label the team as “an embarrassment” on social media, a team which has lost just one game domestically this season, a team which has lost just three times in forty five Serie A matches, a team which has given us all something to cling to, a vision that we dare to dream can become reality; the Scudetto.
If we win the title, and there is still a long way to go, no-one and I mean no-one will remember that time in December we went out the Champions League after losing to Feyenoord. The focus now must be on Fiorentina this weekend and a likely return to the summit of Serie A depending on events in the Derby d’Italia in Turin, and it is there where our focus must remain.
We can’t afford to lose sight of the fact the title is within our own grasp. Unlike tonight, we don’t need anyone to do us any favours to succeed, the job is clear and the objective is real.
We, as a support, cannot and should not come crashing down on the team with such negativity given what they have given to us this last 16 months or so. We owe it to them to stick by them, to show appreciation of the special season we can have regardless of going out of the Champions League, by being mature enough to recognise that our squad has issues, issues which should be addressed come January.
The doom and gloom must pass, fans must pick themselves up and stop acting like the season is over. The Champions League is gone, but the anthem will play once again and the San Paolo will roar once more, only this time with Napoli walking out proudly as the 2017/18 Serie A champions.
By James McGhie Follow @jrmcghie