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Monday February 18 2013
Napoli miss their moment

Napoli failed to capitalise on a Juventus defeat at the weekend. Giancarlo Rinaldi wraps up the latest Serie A action.

When the ball left Marek Hamsik’s foot everybody held their breath. It looked like the shot which might draw Napoli back to within two points of Juventus at the top of the table. But Sergio Romero – and one of the goal posts at the Stadio San Paolo – ensured they would not take full advantage of the Bianconeri’s Saturday night slip-up in Rome.

The day only got worse for the Slovakian when his watch was stolen by two gun-toting robbers. It was not the first time he has suffered such an incident but, at least, he will be able to buy another one. Chances to get back on the trail of La Vecchia Signora might not be so easy to acquire.

It was an opportunity missed in Serie A’s long weekend which will actually not be concluded until Monday night. Walter Mazzarri’s men looked edgy, as if the significance of defeating Sampdoria was weighing heavy upon them. A pitch more lumpy than school-dinner custard did little to help their cause.

The San Paolo playing surface is expected to be completely returfed but it would be the cause of significant regret if they end up missing out on the title by a couple of points. Sporting director Riccardo Bigon was right to point out that they are still in the hunt for the Scudetto – especially with a home tie to Juve to come in a fortnight. Nonetheless, failure to beat Samp was a bit of a blow.

It was a missile-like strike from Francesco Totti which had handed Napoli their chance to narrow the gap. In their hour of need, the Giallorossi know they can count on their most inspirational figure. He did not let them down when Juventus came to town.

It was not a defeat which pleased Antonio Conte. He pointed out that playing three big matches in the space of the week had taken its toll, but was also disappointed with the way his team performed. Their grip on the Scudetto, unlike that of Stephan Lichtsteiner on Gary Hooper in the Champions League, has loosened a little.

The Bianconeri boss is not a man who leaves you in much doubt about his feelings. He called for all his players to report for duty at 8am on Tuesday, clearly wanting to get to the heart of the causes of their defeat in Rome. He seemed to suggest that some players might have been a bit more tired than they were willing to admit.

Behind the top two, and with Lazio still to play, the battle for that last Champions League spot was taken up a notch by the weekend results. Milan sent out their warning signal to the rest with a triumph over Parma sealed, of course, by a Mario Balotelli goal. The former Manchester City man could hardly have had a better impact on Serie A. If only Silvio Berlusconi could find some loophole to sneak him into the Champions League squad.

That result put pressure on city rivals Inter in the fight for third place which they were unable to cope with. Andrea Stramaccioni called his Nerazzurri “too ugly to be true” after they were dismantled 4-1 in Florence. With Diego Milito suffering a season-ending injury midweek, they hardly head to the Derby Della Madonnina on Sunday in high spirits.

The scoreline, of course, threw the Viola back into contention for Europe’s biggest competition. Vincenzo Montella tweaked his formation to an effective 4-3-3 and it allowed Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic to shine. They both grabbed doubles to crown one of the best team performances the Florentines have put in this season. Now they need to string a couple of good results together.

Sunday night’s win allowed the boys in purple to stretch away from the impressive Catania who had earlier clocked up yet another win at home to Bologna. Rolando Maran’s side have finally admitted that they are aiming a little higher than mere Serie A survival. “We can’t hide any more,” said President Antonino Pulvirenti. “We owe it to the city and the fans to try to stay onboard that train of dreams which could take us into Europe.”

Udinese may have blown their chances of continental football after they had their wings clipped by Genoa. The victory allowed the Rossoblu to breathe a bit more easily above the relegation zone. A four-point gap is not enough for them to relax, but it is a whole lot better than it looked at one stage this season.

Around them Torino scored an important win over Atalanta while Chievo and Palermo shared a point which will have been more welcome by the former than the latter. But the final word must go to Cagliari who managed a morale-boosting win in the week their President Massimo Cellino ended up in jail.

A group of fans went to lend their support by listening to the game outside Buoncammino prison where he finds himself at the moment. The future of the club is intertwined with the outcome of the case against him in the accusation of fraud in the construction of the Is Arenas stadium. But Italian teams have shown before they can flourish in adversity – and the Sardinians look like they might also be on the right path in that regard.

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Have your say...
Title race is over. Napoli proved on Sunday they haven't got the nerve to win the title. Their performance was limp and nervy cannot see them winning this weekend and certainly don't think they have the backbone to overcome Juve in 2 weeks.
on the 20th February, 2013 at 11:38pm
I love how everyone is looking at Sunday as a "blown chance" or "missed opportunity". Lat I checked, Napoli gained a point on Juve and are now 7 clear of both Lazio and Inter. Would a win have served better? Of course. But don't forget that there are 13 more matches, including the big showdown on March 1. I see it as a glass half full. I'm a realist, Juve is top class, but I am also very optimistic about what lies ahead... IT'S NOT OVER YET!!! FORZA NAPOLI!!!!
P.S. WATCH OUT FOR MILAN!!!
on the 20th February, 2013 at 12:04am
Dan Giambrone, a team of chokers? They didn't choke in the Coppa Italia final last year did they? Yes, they failed on Sunday, but when you play a team who park the bus and on a field that is unfit for children, then these things happen.
The problem with Napoli is that when they make changes to the team they pay the price. They are not deep enough yet, but then again don't have Juve's spending power. Each of the last 3 season Naploi improve. For all Napoli fans, this is exactly what we want.
on the 18th February, 2013 at 10:21pm
Napoli are an injury to Cavani away from not even finishing in the Champions League places. I still think Milan and Fiorentina have a great chance of finishing top 3. Juventus have been without Chiellini, one of the top central defender's in world football, since before Christmas and we are still top. Caceres is a top defender and worthy of the black and white, but it's not easy for a right footed player to play to the left of a three man defence. When Giorgio returns will will be invincible.
on the 18th February, 2013 at 8:40pm
It seems to mee people forget where Napoli is coming from plus Juve spends 120 millions euro on wages Napoli 56 million!!!!more then two times lesser wages.... to see things in perspective....Napoli is already winning a scudetto the way the club is run.....
on the 18th February, 2013 at 6:35pm
Alex1231345, I really wouldn't mind either Napoli or Lazio qualifying for the CL. Neither are like Udinese. If Cavani was sold, then Napoli could bring in several decent players, and put the rest towards their new stadium. Lazio would also invest if they made it into the top 3, and with their great coach, I am sure that they would put in a good showing in Europe.I really want the southern clubs to to break the dominance of the northern giants, it would be good for our league.
on the 18th February, 2013 at 3:22pm
@alex12345

"Milan are not good?" lol..
on the 18th February, 2013 at 3:02pm
juventus = big team

napoli = small team

thats all there is to it .
on the 18th February, 2013 at 2:02pm
Napoli appear to be a team of chokers. Their capitulation against Chelsea, their attitude in the Italian Super Cup, their pathetic showings in the EL, and their repeated failure to capitalize on Juve's slip-ups. I blame Mazzarri for this. He is a bag of nerves, and lacks courage in fronting up to the media, & in fielding youngsters. Mazzarri seems to transmit his nervous tension to his players. The way Napoli let winning leads vs Juve, last season, & Milan this season is further evidence of this
on the 18th February, 2013 at 12:27pm
I might sound stupid but the truth is teams like Napoli and Lazio shouldn't qualify for UCL.ADL will not bat an eyelid when he gets a 60m offer for Cavani in summer.But for Napoli he is simply irreplaceable.Their squad is too thin for UCL.Remember how Mazzari was moaning last season about fatigue due to UCL.Same for Lazio. Milan who have been lucky this season should qualify.Their team is not good but they have the DNA for UCL.Juve are obviously good.
on the 18th February, 2013 at 12:04pm
This may sound harsh, but I am glad that Udinese look like they will not qualify for European football. For the last few seasons, Guidolin builds a good team, & then loses his key players in the summer. It then takes him a good six months, to get his new team up & running, by which time; they have failed miserably in Europe,(with Italy losing precious co-efficient points).
on the 18th February, 2013 at 10:19am
We should all know Napoli always miss their moment...Sampdoria weekend Chelsea last season 3-1 up!At least their fans saw them lift the cup last year! If they keep Cavani next season and get two world class players one midfield one defender they are more than staffed to win.
on the 18th February, 2013 at 9:45am

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