Napoli XI: Ospina, Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Mario Rui, Anguissa, Lobotka, Fabian, Politano, Osimhen, Lozano.
Verona XI: Montipo, Ceccherini, Gunter , Sutalo, Faraoni,Tameze, Ilic, Depaoli, Barak, Caprari ,Simeone
Verona 1 Napoli 2
Scorers: Osimhen (14’, 71’), Faraoni (77)
After their difficult defeat against Milan. Napoli needed to bounce back to keep any title ambitions alive, whilst also keeping down the resurgent Juventus. What stood in their way was a dynamic Hellas Verona. I’ Giallablu had been having an excellent season under Igor Tudor, with their Dynamic front free of Caraprai, Simeone and Barak. They looked to do damage against an out of form Napoli.
I’ Partoneipei saw the return of Lozano and Anguissa to the lineup, relegating Insigne and Zielinski, (two of the chief underperformers), to the Napoli bench. Insigne was also carrying a knock. Spalletti’s squad needed to rely on speed and a lot of energy to beat this upstart side.
Even before the match started the controversy had begun in this terse rivalry. A banner outside the stadium referenced the Ukrainian conflict with Russian and Ukraine flags and also Neapolitan coordinates, perhaps suggesting where the conflict should spread too. This was an unsubtle attempt by Verona’s controversial Ultra’s to play mind games.
The opening 10 minutes were a meticulous affair. Neither side were really able to break their defenses down, the battle in midfield was scrappy and unsure. Simeone would have an opening opportunity, turning from Koulibaly about 30 yards out and trying a hopeful shot against Ospina but it fell harmlessly over.
Napoli and Politano surprised the Bentegodi with a weak footed cross from the right, as opposed to his usual cut in and cross with his left, that found a surging Osimhen for a bullet header and the first goal. An uncharacteristically snappy start from the away side.
From the goal, Napoli seemed to have control of the match with small bouts of Verona opposition. After a silky move to escape his man, Anguissa fired his drilled cross into the box which deflected to Ruiz who’s curled strike from just inside the box was parried out by an excellent save from Montipo
Verona had their chances to attack but so far had failed in their final decision making.
The ugly side of football raised its head again, coming into the final 15 minutes. As reportedly, the Verona fans started to shout racist and offensive chants towards the Napoli players such as Osimhen. The stadium issued multiple announcements but the chants continued…..
It seemed that Napoli had week foot training this week as Ruiz was the next left footed player to catch the opposition out by shooting with his right. It would certainly have beaten the keeper if it was on target.
Rui would find himself in on goal but when the defender fell behind him, the ref blew for a foul, which was a shame as the Portuguese fired it into the net.
As the first half ended, Napoli could be proud of their first half work. They were firmly on top stifling the opposition, the revered Verona forward line were kept silent. The only problem was that Napoli’s track record suggested that a second goal was crucial. Verona just need one opportunity.
The second half started with confusion, Koulibaly decided to shepherd a tame shot back to Ospina but Ceccherini tried to disrupt the move by sticking a foot in to nip it from the keeper but ended up trodding on the Columbians hand. Napoli would hope he would be able to play on as both their backup keepers were uncapped in Serie A.
Osimhen was the next victim, Gunter contested with the Nigerian in the air but seemed to wrap his body and his bodyweight onto the Napoli man’s shoulder. Which caused the striker, who had already missed 3 months to injury, to writhe on the floor in pain.
Between the stops, actual football hadn’t really commenced till well after the 50th minute.
After more stops and Verona fouls, Elmas caught everyone out with a quick throw-in for Di Lorenzo to run onto the Verona backline. They were napping and the Napoli fullback crossed the ball for a waiting Osimhen to smack home and silence the crowds.
Napoli now had an insurance goal to defend going into the final 20 mins.
Which they would need as Verona equalised in the 76th minute. After a well worked move to free Tameze down the left, his soft cross found Faraoni who bounded over Rui’s diminutive figure to head Verona’s first of the match.
It was a tense final 10 minutes, Napoli desperately needed this win and had been the better side for most of this game. But now the momentum was with Verona and they had it all to play for.
Or so they thought, a clearance from Ospina found its way onto Ceccherini’s hand which the ref deemed deliberate. Which earned him his second yellow of the match and Verona would have to try and get their equaliser with 10 men.
Di Lorenzo would catch Verona out again with a chance down the left. Anguissa saw the Italian’s run and fired a quick free kick into the box for the full back, who dummied his pass and drew it back to an oncoming Elmas who required a smart save from Montipo to stop the repeat from the second goal.
Rui also took advantage of the extra space, finding himself free just outside the box, he decided to have a go and fired a laser onto the Verona bar and out.
Napoli seemed to be happy to attack, the extra man took away some of the threat of a counter and it meant that they had the ball far away from the Napoli goal.
After an intense 6+ minutes of extra time, the referee blew for the end of the match and all Napoli fans could unclench. The match had it all, good goals, scrappy tackles, red cards (including another second yellow for Faraoni for a dissent after full time) and drama. Osimhen seemed sharp and prolific again, maybe regaining his excellent early season form, which coincided with the excellent service he received for most of the match. Napoli played very well against a good side and kept them out for most of the match. They retained their 3 point deficit to Milan but reminded the northern sides that they weren’t out of the race yet. Onto Udinese!