Juventus
    09.11.2013 10:34 - in: Serie A S

    Napoli in the spotlight

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    Juventus.com takes an in-depth look at Sunday’s opposition Napoli, the most successful club in southern Italy after great success in the Diego Maradona era and now pushing for the Scudetto again

    Club

    Napoli were first founded as Naples Foot-Ball and Cricket Club in 1904 by English sailors William Poths and Hector M. Bayon, avid amateur footballers who decided to set up a team in collaboration with a group of Neapolitans.

    Their first real taste of competitive action was in the Lipton Challenge Cup conceived by Sir Thomas Lipton, owner of the famous tea company. A competition between Campanian and Sicilian teams, it usually saw Napoli pitted against Palermo in the final, and the Partenopei triumphed in 1911 and 1914.

    The original team merged with a breakaway international strand to form Associazione Calcio Napoli in 1926, but it didn’t initially produce success on the field: the following season they finished bottom of the league after picking up a solitary point from 18 games.

    The results improved, though, thanks to the prowess of Paraguayan-born hero Attila Sallustro, who was the club’s first major star and their all-time top goalscorer until Diego Maradona broke his record of 111.

    Napoli finished third in Serie A in both 1932/33 and 1933/34, but erratic form then took over, and it wasn’t until 1962 that they enjoyed real success, beating Emilia-Romagna-based outfit SPAL to lift the Coppa Italia that year.

    In 1967/68 they mounted their first convincing challenge for the Scudetto, finishing second behind Milan with a team including Dino Zoff, Jose Altafini and Omar Sivori (the first two of which would go on to star for Juventus and the latter had already done so).

    The Partenopei consistently finished in the upper reaches of the league until 1983, when they became dragged into a relegation battle.

    Needing a spark to turn their fortunes around, the next year Napoli broke the world transfer fee to bring in the player who would become the club’s most iconic figure: Maradona.

    In 1986/87, the Argentine number 10 inspired the team to a landmark double of Coppa Italia and Scudetto (the first league title for the club and also for any southern Italian team),  after which he became a cultural and, in some areas, religious phenomenon.

    Two years later Napoli lifted the 1988/89 UEFA Cup, beating Juventus and Bayern Munich on the way to final victory against Stuttgart, and won the Scudetto again the following year.

    But that era of achievement came to an end as the club went into decline, both on the pitch and financially, until being struck by bankruptcy in 2004.

    The man who rescued Napoli was film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis, under whom they have made a swift rise from Serie C to their current position of threatening for the Scudetto.

    Stadium

    Napoli’s home is the Stadio San Paolo, originally named the Stadio del Sole before being re-christened in honour of Saint Paul, who is said to have reached Italy through the port of Naples.

    Its 60,240 matchday capacity makes it the third largest ground in Italy after the San Siro in Milan and the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, and the boxing and martial arts gyms housed within mean that it can also host other sporting contests.

    Juventus competed against Napoli in the very first game played at the ground in 1959. The Bianconeri lost 2-1 that day, but have had ample revenge with 20 away victories there since then.

    The San Paolo underwent extensive renovations in preparation for the 1990 World Cup, a tournament in which it hosted an extraordinary semi-final between Italy and Argentina.

    With their beloved Maradona lining up against the Azzurri, the Napoli faithful were torn, a feeling that was made worse when their number 10 asked them to cheer on Argentina. They chose to get behind their homeland, but in the end it was their hero himself who stepped up to sink Italy with the winning penalty.

    The public at the stadium is famously one of the most devoted around, with a 51,000-strong crowd turning up to watch the last match of the 2005/06 season despite the Partenopei being in Serie C1 (a record attendance for that division).

    Transfer activity

    Club president De Laurentiis has pulled off a series of major signings that looked to have increased Napoli’s capacity to compete in a number of different competitions this year, most prominently the trio from Real Madrid.

    All are top-level players: Raul Albiol was in the Spain squad that won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, while Jose Callejon offers lethal pace and Gonzalo Higuain is a proven goalscorer who netted 107 goals in 190 games for Real Madrid.

    Pablo Armero’s loan deal from Udinese has been made permanent, while Dries Mertens has arrived from PSV Eindhoven. The forward is part of a talented Belgian international side tipped to achieve big things, and he found the back of the net 18 times last season for the Dutch side.

    For increased stability at the back, new manager Rafa Benitez has opted to bring in two goalkeepers: youngster Rafael Cabral from Santos and Pepe Reina from Liverpool, a cornerstone of the Spanish boss’ team while he was at Anfield.

    The departure that paved the way for this influx, painful as it might have been for Napoli fans, was that of Edison Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain. The Uruguayan was Serie A’s top scorer last year, but a hefty transfer fee has allowed them to strengthen in other areas.

    Current Team

    Marek Hamsik is the team’s most dangerous playmaker and has been prolific this season with six Serie A goals so far. The team’s vice-captain (and also captain of Slovakia) has been at Napoli since 2007, and will be looking forward to taking on Juventus given that they are his second favourite victim after Bologna.

    Gokhan Inler performs a similar role to Andrea Pirlo in the Partenopei midfield. Ambidextrous and an excellent passer of the ball, he is the starting point of most of Napoli’s play.

    In attack, as well as new arrivals Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon, Benitez also has the talents of Lorenzo Insigne at his disposal. A free-kick specialist - he belted one into the top corner in the Champions League victory at home against Borussia Dortmund - he became an Italian international at 21 and has been tipped as a future Azzurri star.

    The team captain is the experienced defender Paolo Cannavaro, younger brother of former Juventus defender and World Cup-winning captain Fabio.

    Manager

    With Napoli looking to go one better than last year’s second-place finish in the current campaign, De Laurentiis have brought in a manager who has experience of winning top honours: Benitez.

    The 53-year old was a player to begin with, representing Real Madrid C as a midfielder before picking up an injury whilst playing for Spain in the World Student Games that effectively ended his career.

    He soon moved into coaching at the age of 26, leading the Real Madrid Under 19s to Spanish Cup glory five years later and a domestic league and cup double two years after that.

    He got his big break at Valencia in 2001, inheriting a promising team and making the most of the resources available to such good effect that he guided them to their first La Liga title in 31 years in 2002.

    He embarked on a new challenge at Liverpool in the 2004/05 season, and though his side could only manage fifth place in the Premier League that year, in Europe they exceeded all expectations.

    Benitez’ Liverpool only progressed to the Champions League knockout stage on head-to-head difference, but the final against Milan in Istanbul is remembered as one of the greatest of all time: 3-0 down at half-time, Liverpool came back to eventually triumph on penalties and crown Benitez European champion in his first season in charge.

    An FA Cup title the next year meant that the Spaniard became the first ever Liverpool manager to win major trophies in both his first two seasons in charge, but the team’s form began to drop and he left the club in June 2010.

    Just a few days later, Benitez took on the Inter post left vacant by Jose Mourinho after the Portugese coach had moved on to Real Madrid, but by December the side had slipped to sixth position in the league and he was sacked just before Christmas.

    In November 2012, he became interim boss at Chelsea, who he led to Champions League qualification and UEFA Cup triumph despite consistently receiving a hostile reception from his own fans.

    Benitez replaced Walter Mazzarri - now with the Spaniard’s former club Inter - at the end of May this year.

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