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SERIE A

Osimhen And Teammate, Kvaratskhelia Are Scoring Again At Napoli Under Third Coach Of The Season –

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Osimhen And Teammate, Kvaratskhelia Are Scoring Again At Napoli Under Third Coach Of The Season -

It took three coaches for Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen to rediscover the form that drove Napoli to the Serie A crown last season.

 

Kvaratskhelia’s woes, in particular, have been emblematic of Napoli’s troubled title defense. The Georgian dribbling wizard was a revelation in his first season in Italy and was named Serie A MVP for being a key part of Luciano Spalletti’s title-winning team.

But Kvaratskhelia struggled to replicate that scintillating form for Rudi Garcia and then Walter Mazzarri. He was even benched in Garcia’s last game in charge in November, a 1-0 home loss to lowly Empoli.

However, under Napoli’s third coach of the season — Francesco Calzona — Kvaratskhelia has scored three goals in his past two matches and added an assist.

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Osimhen has fared even better under Calzona with five goals in four matches since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, where he helped Nigeria reach the final.

Osimhen almost got on the scoresheet again last weekend but had a late penalty — which he earned — parried by Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny. Giacomo Raspadori fired home the rebound to snatch a 2-1 Napoli win.

“We’re getting back on the right path and we don’t want to stop here,” Raspadori said. “I’m so pleased, particularly for the team. We deserved this win and we knew it would be crucial in terms of our resurgence.”

Napoli was on course for one of the worst title defenses in league history when Calzona replaced the fired Mazzarri last month despite never having been in charge of a club team.

Calzona began his tenure with a 1-1 draw against Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16. He started in Serie A with a draw against Cagliari before a 6-1 thrashing of Sassuolo and then the morale-boosting victory over Juventus.

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Napoli is up to seventh and will be looking to further cut the eight-point gap to fourth-placed Bologna on Friday when it plays Torino.

“We’re rediscovering a mentality that has been missing,” Raspadori said. “Under Calzona we’ve had a reset. We’re playing on the front foot and we’ve freed our heads from the difficult moments.

“We’re trying to play the sort of football that we showcased so often last year. This means that we certainly need to keep improving and trying to reach our target of fourth place while it’s possible.”

The victory over Juventus was a strong sign of Napoli’s resurgence. But more stern tests are coming.

Napoli travels to Spain for the return leg against Barcelona on Tuesday before playing runaway Serie A leader Inter Milan and Atalanta, which is one of its main rivals for a Champions League spot.

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“We’re on the right path, but, of course, there’s so much room for improvement,” Calzona said. “It’s clear that winning certain games can send out a big message both technically and mentally.

“You can’t perform miracles in 10 days, so full credit to the players, who are trying to rediscover their identity.”

-AP

 

 

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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.

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SERIE A

Nigeria-born Okafor strikes late to earn Milan draw in six-goal thriller with Sassuolo

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Serie A - U.S. Sassuolo v AC Milan - Mapei Stadium - Citta del Tricolore, Reggio Emilia, Italy - April 14, 2024 AC Milan's Noah Okafor scores their third goal REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzin

Second-placed AC Milan twice fought back from two goals down to secure a 3-3 draw at relegation-threatened Sassuolo with a late equaliser by substitute Noah Okafor in Serie A on Sunday.

Okafor has a Nigerian father and Swiss mother.

Milan have 69 points, six ahead of Juventus with six matches left. Sassuolo are second-bottom with 26 points. Inter Milan, who host Cagliari later on Sunday, are runaway leaders on 82.

It was a frustrating match for Milan, who dominated possession and chances, particularly for Samuel Chukwueze who had two goals disallowed for offside by a hair’s breadth.

Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli also made several fine saves, notably a sensational early stop when he clawed away Malick Thiaw’s header which was destined for the top corner.

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“We tried absolutely everything. We scored three goals and created many more chances. Nobody could have complained if we’d scored five or six today,” Milan boss Stefano Pioli told DAZN.

“I saw errors today but there was nothing wrong with the attitude and I’d not say we were distracted by other issues,” he added ahead of Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final return leg at AS Roma

Milan also meet Inter on April 22 in a match that could potentially secure the Nerazzurri their 20th league title.

“Clearly, Inter will win the Scudetto. We’ll do everything we can to win the derby. That’s to make our fans happy, to confirm second place and that’s a prestigious target,” Pioli said.

MILAN SHOCKED

Sassuolo shocked Milan after four minutes when the unmarked Andrea Pinamonti volleyed home from close range after a fine cross was flicked on with his heel by Kristian Thorstvedt.

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Armand Lauriente then doubled the lead six minutes later after sprinting into the box and striking a shot that was blocked by keeper Marco Sportiello but rebounded into the path of the Sassuolo striker for an easy finish.

Rafael Leao revived Milan’s chances with a goal in the 20th minute when he went on a solo run, slipped past two defenders and slotted the ball into the far corner of the net.

The excitement continued as Lauriente scored again eight minutes after the break before Milan’s Luka Jovic pulled one back just before the hour mark from close range.

Sassuolo looked exhausted near the end of the match, with Milan creating several chances but Consigli stood strong.

However, in the 84th minute Okafor received the ball inside the box and secured a hard-fought point for the visitors with a well-placed shot two minutes after coming on.

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The late equaliser saved Milan’s blushes ahead of their visit to Roma on Thursday with a 1-0 advantage as they try to clinch a place in the Europa League semi-finals.

“Roma played very well at San Siro, whereas we were below our usual level. If we play to our level then I expect it to be a balanced encounter and incidents can make the difference,” Pioli said.

-Reuters

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SERIE A

Osimhen’s Napoli troubles continue with Frosinone slip

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Osimhen And Lewandowksi Trade Goals As Napoli Draw 1-1 At Barcelona In 1st Leg Of CL Last 16 -

The chances of Victor Osimhen’s Napoli to play in next season’s UEFA Champions League were dealt with a major blow Sunday after a 2-2 home draw in their Serie A match with struggling Frosinone.

Although Super Eagles forward, Victor Osimhen was on point with another superb goal, it was Walid Cheddira’s first brace in Italy’s top flight earned a point for Frosinone in Naples.

It left ailing Italian champions Napoli in eighth, six points behind fifth-placed Roma, who extended their advantage the in match against Udinese later last night.

Italian clubs’ strong performances in European football mean a top-five finish in Serie A is almost certain to gain a spot in the Champions League.

Napoli are increasingly unlikely to be among that group and were booed off the pitch at a sparsely-populated Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

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Francesco Calzona’s side looked set for sixth place when Victor Osimhen diverted home Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s mishit shot in the 63rd minute.

Instead, Cheddira, who had previously levelled Matteo Politano’s stunning early opener after the away side were gifted possession by Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret, headed home his second 10 minutes after Osimhen’s strike.

Frosinone stays just inside the bottom three and level on 27 points with 17th-placed Verona, who are outside the relegation zone on goal difference and face Atalanta on Monday.

Eusebio Di Francesco’s team deserved the draw from an eventful game in which Meret initially looked to be the hero after he saved Matias Soule’s penalty on the half-hour mark.

Frosinone has only won one league match since late November but successive draws with Genoa, fourth-placed Bologna and now Napoli have boosted their hopes of staying up.

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Later Inter Milan host Cagliari at the San Siro, where a win will guarantee an opportunity to seal their 20th league title in the Milan derby on Monday week.

Inter are a whopping 14 points ahead of closest challengers AC Milan, who were at Sassuolo Sunday.

Beating Cagliari will ensure the derby will be a chance for Inter to claim the Scudetto regardless of how Milan does in their match.4

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SERIE A

Osimhen propels Napoli’s rapid goal blitz gives them a 4-2 win at Monza

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Osimhen And Lewandowksi Trade Goals As Napoli Draw 1-1 At Barcelona In 1st Leg Of CL Last 16 -

Napoli scored three goals within six second-half minutes as they clinched a 4-2 victory at Monza on Sunday to keep alive their slim hopes of a top-four finish in Serie A.

The defending champions are seventh in the table with 48 points, 10 points behind fourth-placed Bologna, who played out a goalless draw at Frosinone earlier on Sunday. Monza are 11th with 42 points.

Napoli still find themselves in a challenging position in the table, trailing both AS Roma and Atalanta who sit in fifth and sixth place with 55 and 50 points respectively. Atalanta have two matches in hand before their clash at Cagliari later on Sunday.

Coach Francesco Calzona preferred not to discuss how the season could end for Napoli.

“We are forced to take it one game at a time because it doesn’t only depend on us,” he told DAZN.

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“We have to keep winning and maintain some hope of finishing in the top spots. If we play like the second half, we can have hope but not if we play like we did in the first half.”

Calzona said he had had a serious talk with the players during the break

“During halftime we talk, we discuss the problems, try to resolve them. The lads got the message but it’s not just today, I’ve been saying this for a long time.”

STUNNING GOALS

Milan Duric nodded in the opening goal for Monza nine minutes into the match, outmanoeuvring Napoli’s Juan Jesus to connect with a cross.

While Napoli focused on achieving an equaliser, Monza goalkeeper Michele Di Gregorio performed admirably to maintain his side’s advantage going into the break.

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The second half was frenzied, with five goals coming in 13 minutes at the sunny Stadio Brianteo.

Napoli began their comeback 10 minutes into the second half, when Victor Osimhen rose so high to nod in the equaliser that he landed on his face, requiring a brief moment of treatment before continuing.

Two minutes later, Matteo Politano unleashed a perfectly executed left-footed volley from outside the box, finding the far right corner and leaving the stadium stunned by the display.

With Monza in disarray, Napoli secured their third goal in the 61st minute, when Piotr Zielinski unleashed a shot from distance that struck the underside of the bar and found the net.

Andrea Colpani demonstrated that Monza could also produce impressive goals by curling a shot into the corner a minute later to keep alive the home fans’ hopes.

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Giacomo Raspadori scored Napoli’s fourth goal after 68 minutes, less than a minute after being substituted, by sending in the rebound from a save by Di Gregorio.

“They were spectacular goals but I like to underline Raspadori’s goal because he believed to the end,” Calzona said.

“Strikers must have that instinct to attack the goal even when it seems unlikely that the ball will come to him.”

-Reuters

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