Some 26 years ago, SSC Napoli were peaking. Led by “El Pibe de Oro”– Diego Armando Maradonaon the field, the Italian team were on a mission to collect asmany trophies as possible. They had already conquered Italy with an outstanding Doppietta in 1987 – Seria A title + Coppa Italia – and on May 17, 1989, they took the next step of challenging all of Europe and prevailing by winning the coveted UEFA Cup.
Now, Napoli are on the verge of recreating that magical moment and coach Rafael Benitez knows it.
Yes, they don’t have Maradona anymore but what they do have is yet another Argentinean who can dazzle his opponents like the legend once could. Yes, they haven’t won the Serie A title since 1990 but they did go all the way in the Coppa Italia twice – 2012, 2014 – and secured another trophy last year after a 24-year wait: the SupercoppaItaliana.
And like 26 years ago, Napoli know one important thing that usually wins football matches: how to score goals. The team is this season’s UEFA Europa League top scorer with 25 goals since the start of the group stage, averaging an impressive 2.08 goals per game. In the last round, the Italians hammered VfL Wolfsburg,scoring 6 goals in the two-legged affair, including 4 away from home.
Now, to reach the Final and repeat the 1989 performance, all they have to do is get past Ukraine’s FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Even Dnipro coach Myron Markevychis aware of his team’s chances in the clash; he gave his side a 40% chance of advancing. Yet Rafa Benitez isn’t ready to buy into that. “Dnipro have lost only twice in 17 matches this year…They beat Olympiacos, Ajax and Club Brugge – they are in the UEFA Europa League semi-finals because they deserve to be,”he commented yesterday.
Dnipro have impressed many football pundits so far and they will probably set foot in the Stadio San Paolo like they don’t have anything to lose. Don’t expect many goals to be scored by the Ukrainian side – they have only netted 11 since the group stage –but get ready for some feisty defensive play by the away team and some dangerous counterattacks. Dnipro conceded only 4 goals in the knockout stage and managed to stop every single attack in the quarter-final clash against Club Brugge.
Can they do more of the same in Italy? Or will offensive-minded Napoli take charge?