MILAN (AP) — The city of Naples is gearing itself up for a party that has been on hold for several weeks.
Normally superstitious about mentioning the word “scudetto,” Neapolitans have been festooning the city with banners, flags and life-sized replicas of Napoli players.
Around 10,000 fans welcomed the team back from Turin last Sunday following a last-gasp 1-0 victory at Juventus that put Napoli on the brink of its first Serie A title in 33 years.
Thousands of motorbikes and scooters followed the team bus. The convoy was filmed by Napoli forward Victor Osimhen, who could be heard exclaiming: “It’s crazy man, it’s crazy, my voice is gone.”
It’s set to get crazier on Sunday if the title becomes Napoli’s, as has been expected for weeks.
Down to seven matches remaining, Napoli has a 17-point advantage over second-placed Lazio and 19 points over Juventus — the only teams that could mathematically prevent it taking the crown.
If Napoli beats relegation-threatened Salernitana on Saturday and Lazio fails to win at Inter Milan the following day, the league trophy will be secured for the first time since 1990, when Diego Maradona led them. Napoli’s stadium is named after the Argentina icon.
But Napoli needs to win, which it has managed only once in its last four matches in all competitions. Anything less would leave the Champagne on ice for a few more days.
However, that victory at Juventus on Sunday courtesy of a stoppage-time goal from Giacomo Raspadori has renewed the team’s sense of belief.
“We celebrated in the dressing room because we deserve it,” Napoli captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo said. “We started on this journey a long time ago and now we’re on the cusp of victory. We’re loving it but we’re staying focused. We’re close to realizing our dream.
“We might win the title at the Maradona, and just thinking about the party with our fans gives me goosebumps. It will be an indescribable feeling. I’m happy and proud to be the captain of this team.”
If Napoli takes the title this weekend, however, it won’t be at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona unless something changes.
The city asked for the team’s match against Salernitana to be pushed to Sunday, to kick off at the same time as Inter-Lazio. Serie A’s governing body initially refused but Italian media reports that could change.
Napoli is expected to beat Salernitana, which is just seven points above the relegation zone after one win in its past seven matches. But Salernitana has proved to be tricky. Its other results in that run were all draws, including against both Milan teams. It hasn’t lost a match in more than two months.
Lazio faces a tougher test against Inter as both teams are in a tight battle for Champions League qualifying spots. Inter is sixth in Serie A but only two points below fourth-placed AC Milan and seven behind Lazio.
Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti will be looking to his former Inter team to do him a favor. Spalletti was in charge of Inter for two seasons before being fired in 2019. His next position was at Napoli, following a two-year break.
The 64-year-old Spalletti has never won Serie A, although he’s steered Roma to the Italian Cup twice.
“Putting yourself in a position to win the scudetto is reward for all the sacrifices made,” Spalletti said. “I’ve come a long way and I’ve suffered at times. Now I’m happy to be the coach of this splendid team.”
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