Napoli win emotional first match after Maradona's death


Soccer Football - Europa League - Group F - Napoli v HNK Rijeka - Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy - November 26, 2020 Napoli’s Matteo Politano in action with HNK Rijeka's Nino Galovic REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

NAPLES, Italy (Reuters) - Napoli overcame Croatian side Rijeka 2-0 on Thursday in their first match since the death of Diego Maradona, the Italian club's greatest and most popular player.

On an emotionally-charged evening, the Napoli team took the field for the Europa League game wearing number 10 shirts with Maradona's name emblazoned on the back, while a photograph of the Argentine idol stared down from the electronic scoreboard.

Banners showing images of Maradona, who led Napoli to two Serie A titles during seven extraordinary seasons at the club in the 1980s, were placed around the San Paolo stadium, which was eerily empty and quiet due to COVID-19 regulations.

"From yesterday, when we went to the hotel, you could sense that a different mood had come over the city," Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso said. "It was a great loss, but Diego will never die. He is a legend, from another planet."

Gattuso had known Maradona personally.

"I have so many good memories, I had the chance to speak to him many times," he said. "He has died but his spirit lives on. He made mistakes in his private life but he will always be alive because of what he has achieved."

Although spectators were not allowed into the ground itself, however, fans gathered outside the stadium chanting "Diego, Diego" and other anthems.

Hundreds of blue and white Napoli scarves were tied to railings outside the stadium, and flowers, children's pictures, church candles and even a bottle of wine were laid out along the pavement in a makeshift shrine.

Maradona died of a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 60.

Once the game started, Napoli dominated and created several chances before Rijeka full back Armando Anastasio, under pressure from Matteo Politano, turned Piotr Zielinski's shot into his own net five minutes before halftime.

Hirving Lozano made the result safe in the 75th minute, controlling Lorenzo Insigne's pass before slotting the ball past Ivan Nevistic to leave Napoli top of Group F with nine points from four games, two ahead of AZ Alkmaar and Real Sociedad.

Politano said it was hard to concentrate on the game.

"It is a sad day and it was difficult to go onto the pitch in the right frame of mind," he said. "It's a difficult moment but we have to be strong so we can win a trophy and dedicate it to Maradona."

(Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 18
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3
   

Did you find this article insightful?

Yes
No

Next In Football

Newcastle in a difficult situation, says Bruce
Soccer-Spurs' Mourinho hails Bale after Cup win at Wycombe
Europe's top clubs face 2 billion euros revenue hit from pandemic - Deloitte
Late goal flurry earns Tottenham Cup win at Wycombe
BC Partners taps Vialli advisory firm to strike Inter deal - sources
Players discuss online abuse with UK government ministers
Sokratis joins Olympiakos after Arsenal exit
Sleepless Pioli demands Milan improvement against Inter in Cup
Leeds chairman says domestic game needs defending from Super League
Allardyce is a football genius, says Man City's Guardiola

Stories You'll Enjoy


-->