Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Naples gearing up for title party as faltering Milan come to town

An Italian flag reading ‘Napoli’ is displayed over a street on March 24, 2023 in Naples, as the city braces up for its potential first Scudetto championship win in 33 years.

An Italian flag reading ‘Napoli’ is displayed over a street on March 24, 2023 in Naples, as the city braces up for its potential first Scudetto championship win in 33 years.
| Photo Credit: AFP

Naples is getting ready for the mother of all title parties as AC Milan travel south on Sunday for the first of three major clashes between the Serie A giants in a matter of weeks.

Southern Italy’s biggest city is counting down the days until Napoli can officially say they are champions for the first time since 1990 thanks to a 19-point lead at the top of Serie A.

Such is size of their advantage with 11 games to go long-suffering Napoli supporters have let go of their traditionally superstitious ways and already bedecked town in blue and white in anticipation of near-certain victory for their beloved team.

The number three in honour of what will be Napoli’s third league title can been seen on flags and banners and painted in murals around the city.

Diego Maradona said a Scudetto for Napoli “is worth 10 for Juventus” after guiding them to their first in 1987 and the late Argentine icon has been joined in the walls of Naples by the stars of this year’s title charge.

Depictions of top scorer Victor Osimhen and wing wizard Khvicha Kvaratskhelia are all over town, most notably in the central Forcella district where at the foot of a mural of the two attackers is a toilet, painted in Juventus’ colours of black and white.

Osimhen’s 25 goals in Serie A and the Champions League have given the Nigeria striker hero status in Naples.

One coffee bar a short walk from the anti-Juve toilet is offering an “Osimhen coffee”, served in a tall glass with sugar and cocao on the edges and artisanal chocolate at the bottom, for the princely sum of three euros — three times the price of an average espresso coffee.

A pastry shop has made a dessert in his honour, a chocolate tart with a mask like Osimhen’s and crumble designed to look like his dyed blonde hair.

Milan trilogy

It’s Juve who draw most ire from Napoli fans even though it was it was the Milan clubs who denied their team from winning more than the two titles claimed during Maradona’s wild time in Naples.

Juve, who host Verona on Saturday, might yet postpone Napoli’s coronation if their 15-point punishment for alleged transfer trickery is overturned next month and they bounce up from seventh to second above Lazio.

But for now it’s fourth-placed Milan who are trying to spoil the party, with Sunday’s showdown and then an all-Italian Champions League quarter-final coming in just over a fortnight.

Napoli come into the clash on a high and with an almost full squad available while Milan will have to do without injured starting centre-back Pierre Kalulu and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Olivier Giroud, who last season scored the winner at Napoli which sent Milan charging to their first league title in 11 years, will start up front after returning from suspension and agreeing a one-year contract extension with Milan which will announce in the few days.

Milan are also in a battle to make next season’s Champions League, a point above Roma who host relegation-threaten Sampdoria and three in front of Atalanta ahead of their clash at Cremonese, the division’s bottom side.

Stefano Pioli’s team have their work cut out as having briefly looked like getting their season on track they have fallen to deserved defeats at Fiorentina and Udinese and only drawn at home with Salernitana in their last three.

Meanwhile Napoli have dropped just five points at home all season and are playing with the freedom of a team that knows its time for glory has arrived.

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