ROME - Italy's southern capital Napoli
could join AC Milan at the top of Serie A on Sunday if they
defeat lowly Catania at home and Milan slip up in a testing away
fixture at Chievo Verona a few hours earlier.
Last Saturday's 2-0 defeat of Roma at the Stadio Olimpico,
which maintained the three-point gap between AC Milan and
Napoli, was significant not only for it being Napoli's first win
there in 17 years but also for the clinical manner in which
victory was achieved.
Since Diego Maradona inspired the Azzurri to a second
scudetto in three glorious years in 1990, Napoli's fall had been
as spectacular as its sudden rise under the lavish presidency of
Bankruptcy led to demotion and in 2004 the imposing San
Paolo stadium was hosting matches in Serie C but now the tide
appears to have turned once again for the city's passionate
Bought by the sometimes outspoken Neapolitan film producer
Aurelio De Laurentiis, son of Hollywood producer Dino, the club
has profited by investing prudently and recorded successive
promotions to once again rub shoulders with Serie A's big boys.
Taking over the reins from Edy Reja, following Roberto
Donadoni's brief spell in charge, Walter Mazzarri has in little
more than a year crafted a side who for all their individual
talent are perhaps best epitomised by team strength.
SOUTH AMERICAN STRENGTH
And just as in the glory days when Maradona, Giordano and
Careca provided fantastic inspiration, the new Napoli has a
strong South American element at its heart.
Already boasting the talents of Argentine Ezequiel Lavezzi
and midfield dynamo Walter Gargano of Uruguay, the off-season
signing of another Uruguayan, Edison Cavani, appears to have
given Napoli the attacking spearhead De Laurentiis had long been
Last weekend Cavani, who was never considered an out-and-out
striker by former club Palermo and given only a bit part by
Uruguay at last year's World Cup, once again stole the headlines
with a double, bringing his league total to 20 in the top
"Napoli are good enough to win the title but only if they
can keep up the same pressure on teams," Lorenzo Rossi, head of
the leading Napoli fansite www.tifiamonapoli.com, told Reuters.
"Spring is where the scudetto will be won and lost. But
whether Napoli have the squad strength to compete with the
northern giants is more open to question."
Argentine Lavezzi, whose pace and dribbling skills have been
pivotal to the side's success, looks set to miss the next three
games including the all-important clash with Milan on February 28
after television replays showed him spitting in the direction of
Roma defender Aleandro Rosi.
"Losing Lavezzi is a huge blow and there's no one to replace
him on the bench," said Rossi. "And while I'd say Cavani is
possibly the best forward in the world at the moment, he's no
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