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SERIE A

Osimhen’s Napoli on verge of first Serie A title in 33 years

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Serie A - Juventus v Napoli - Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy - April 23, 2023 Napoli players celebrate after the match REUTERS/Massimo Pinca/File Photo

Runaway Serie A leaders Napoli could seal their third Scudetto in record fashion this weekend if they beat lowly visitors Salernitana and second-placed Lazio drop points at Inter Milan.

Victory on Saturday would move Luciano Spalletti’s side to 81 points and they will become the first team to win the title with six matches remaining unless Lazio earn their first win away to Inter in more than four years on Sunday.

Spalletti urged his Napoli players not to get ahead of themselves despite being tantalisingly close to ending the city’s 33-year wait for the Serie A title since Diego Maradona led the team to two championships in 1987 and 1990.

“I don’t like to celebrate in advance,” he said. “If we all do it together there will be twice as much joy.”

It would be unthinkable for Napoli to blow their 17-point lead at this stage but Spalletti’s caution is understandable given a tough April in which his team managed two wins in six games in all competitions.

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With no other silverware to play for after Napoli were knocked out of the Champions League by AC Milan in the quarter-finals this month, Spalletti can focus on landing the domestic crown, though he will be without injured defender Mario Rui.

Salernitana have improved dramatically since Paulo Sousa took over from Davide Nicola in mid-February and have pulled well clear of the relegation scrap. They are up to 14th in the table after an eight-game unbeaten run.

INTER SLUMP

Simone Inzaghi’s Inter have slipped to sixth place after Juventus won an appeal against a 15-point deduction that sent the Turin club back up to third in the standings.

Inter are only two points off the top four but have one win in their last six Serie A games with the distraction of a Coppa Italia final and Champions League semi-final with Milan ahead.

Lazio have not lost on the road in the league since the start of January, a run of five wins and two draws in which they have scored 11 goals and conceded one, although they suffered a dispiriting 1-0 home defeat by Torino last week.

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Ciro Immobile played 36 minutes against Torino days after fracturing a rib and hurting his back in a car crash, but Lazio have shown they are not dependent on the Italy forward’s goals, so manager Maurizio Sarri is almost certain not to start him.

Injury-ravaged AS Roma, who are fifth, host fourth-placed Milan on Saturday in another key match in the race for the top four with both teams on 56 points.

Defender Diego Llorente and forward Paulo Dybala are doubtful while Rick Karsdorp, Chris Smalling and Gini Wijnaldum have all been ruled out for Jose Mourinho’s Roma side, who were pushed out of the Champions League places by the Juve decision, despite winning three of their last four league games.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s seventh-placed Atalanta, who have 52 points, travel to Torino on Saturday while Juve, with 59 points, visit another mid-table side in Bologna on Sunday.

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

SERIE A

Ademola Lookman wins Atalanta’s ‘Player of The Season Award

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Nigeria’s Super Eagles winger and silver medal winner with the country at the last AFCON 2023 tournament in Cote D’Ivoire, Ademola Lookman, has emerged as the Atalanta Player of the Season.

The pint-size forward has won the converted award Back-to-back with the Bergamo-based side after his exploit in the domestic and European matches for the side.

Atalanta qualified for two finals with the Nigerian International playing an active role in the campaign.

He was instrumental to Atalanta winning the UEFA Europa League beating Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 in the final with the Nigerian scoring all the goals.

The club announced on its official website on Thursday saying, “It’s him again, Ademola Lookman! The reigning champion defends his title and is crowned straight-a student for the second year in a row after staving off an unsparing competition, to the point of both bringing the contest to an overtime runoff and stepping the pose down up to the Instagram profile after the regular session ended in a tie. Kudos to Mola for his back-to-back Player of the Season!” it noted.
It went further that,” building on his 17 goals and 11 key passes in all competitions (making him the team’s second-best seasonal scorer and wingman) and with the hat-trick scored in the magical Dublin final as his main leg-up, Lookman tips the ItalianOptic branded crown once again,” the web remarked.

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Aside from Ademola, the second and third-best positions were also announced as the midfield duo of Jose dos Santo Éderson and Teun Koopmeiners.

The Nigerian had a brilliant AFCON experience with Nigeria where he scored three goals and his exploits so far have put him in strong contention to win the next ‘African Footballer of the Year’ award which will come up before the end of the year at a venue yet to be announced by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen is the reigning winner of the award alongside Asissat Oshoola who retained the version.

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SERIE A

Napoli reduces Victor Osimhen’s value

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Former Serie A champions Napoli are reportedly ready to drop their asking price for Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen as his future grows ever more uncertain.

The 25-year-old is looking for a move away from Serie A but Napoli’s initial €150M release clause has warned off any potential suitors.

Quoting from another Italian outlet, Calciomercato, Getfootballnewsitaly reports that Napoli are ready to lower the initial valuation to €100M, in the hope that they can free up much needed transfer funds for new boss Antonio Conte, who is understood to be desperate to land Belgian international striker Romelu Lukaku this summer.

It is also stated that the English Premier League sides, Chelsea who were understood to be in pole-position to sign the Nigerian international, has never opened any negotiation with the 2023 Serie A champions.

The only avenues open at this time seem to be the Saudi Pro-League, where a reported salary of €40M a season has been offered, or Paris Saint-Germain, with Osimhen not keen on either option, preferring a move to the English Premier League.

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SERIE A

Osimhen’s Napoli European hopes end with 0-0 draw against Lecce

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If Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen remains in Napoli in the next season, he will not have any action in UEFA competitions.

Napoli lost their slim chances to participate in European competitions next season when they were held to a 0-0 home draw by Lecce in their last Serie A game of the campaign on Sunday.

Last season’s champions Napoli finished 10th on 53 points, level with ninth-placed Torino who were beaten 3-0 at Atalanta in a simultaneous kick off on Sunday.

Despite their loss, Torino can now still earn a Europa Conference League playoffs spot if eighth-placed Fiorentina, who have a game in hand, win the Europa Conference League.

Fiorentina face Greece’s Olympiacos for the title on Wednesday.

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Napoli needed a win to maintain their European hopes but despite 24 shots, five of them on target, they ended their disappointing campaign winless in their last seven games.

Substitute Cyril Ngonge had a good chance to give Napoli the lead just after the break but his shot from the edge of the box was saved by Lecce goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone.

Jens Cajuste hit the far post with a low strike shortly before Ngonge hit the bar in the 64th minute.

Europa League winners Atalanta, meanwhile, secured at least fourth spot after Gianluca Scamacca, Ademola Lookman and Mario Pasalic were all on target in a 3-0 win against Torino.

They sit fourth on 69 points but can still leapfrog third-placed Juventus, on 71 points, if they beat Fiorentina in their last remaining game next Sunday.

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-Reuters

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