What an evening it turned out to be for Napoli fans. The gamut of emotions was run from disappointment, to hope, back to disappointment, then finally rounding out with one feeling. Belief.
Maurizio Sarri made 5 changes from his side that drew 0-0 in Milan a few days prior, seeing the likes of Diawara, Tonelli, Milik, and Zielinski making starts. It also saw the return of Mario Rui from suspension. This saw some “classic XI” players such as Dries Mertens, Allan, and Kalidou Koulibaly, the latter suspended, get some much needed rest.
Napoli came out of the blocks the best in months. They looked determined, hungry, and bordering on frenetic. A few good saves by Bizzarri, an especially good one on Marek Hamsik, kept the hosts off the score sheet early on. Then, Napoli hit a slight dip, then the doubt hit.
In the 41st Minute, a seeing eye cross, and a just onside Jakub Jankto saw Udinese take a 1-0, even after only seeing 25% possession in the first half. It would only take Napoli 4 minutes to answer though, bringing hope back into the hearts of Napoli tifosi. A nice defense splitting pass by Piotr Zielinski, and a hellaciously beautiful first touch by Lorenzo Insigne, saw the diminutive Neapolitan through on goal, and a hard shot into the bottom right corner saw Napoli level going into half-time.
The drama wasn’t nearly done on the day as the second half had a life all its own. In the 55th minute, a combination of helter skelter defending, and a brilliant cross by Francesco Zampano, saw Svante Ingelsson get his first Serie A goal. This was the re-entry of disappointment.
At that time, the live table saw Juventus pulling 9 points clear of Napoli, as they were beating Crotone 0-1 in Calabria.
Just when things were seemingly officially over, and the door was really closing on any scudetto hopes, something happened. Resolve, hunger, and grinta all shone through in the last 35 minutes.
It started with Raul Albiol. The Spanish CB saw himself notch a 2nd of the season, getting Napoli level. This goal meant Albiols first multi-goal domestic season since 2008/09, when he was still at Valencia.
Then, It was the big man. The number 99, Arkadiusz Milik. After some patient build up saw Callejon try a far post shot. The initial attempt was parried by Bizzarri, but right into the path of a perfect ball tracking Milik, who slotted it home past the keeper giving Napoli a 3-2 lead.
An insurance goal by Lorenzo Tonelli saw Napoli do their bit, but this wasn’t the only wonderful thing that happened.
In Calabria, an overhead wondergoal by Nigerian Striker Simy, saw Crotone draw at home against Juventus, So in the course 30 minutes, we saw a 5 point swing in the live table, that saw a provisional 9 point Juventus lead, trimmed to 4. With a match coming up at the J stadium in 4 days, the stage has been set. Belief is back.
By Ken Cioffredi