Napoli finally ended their long wait to win Serie A, joining late club icon Diego Maradona in the history books by being crowned Italian champions with a record-equalling five matches to play.
A 1-1 draw at Udinese on Thursday gave Napoli the point they needed to end 33 years of waiting, leading to wild celebrations among the thousands of fans in Udine, at the Stadio Maradona in Naples and all around southern Italy’s biggest city.
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Supporters streamed onto the pitch at the Dacia Arena to celebrate after a season dominated by Luciano Spalletti’s side, creating moments of tension with home fans not happy at such open partying on their ground.
Victor Osimhen scored the decisive goal in the second half as Napoli’s current stars came back from trailing to Sandi Lovric’s opener at half-time and emulated the teams led by Maradona, which won the league in 1987 and 1990.
“To be compared to him, to be the captain after Maradona to lift the Scudetto, I just have no words,” said skipper Giovanni Di Lorenzo. “This isn’t my title, it belongs to every player and the people who worked to make our dream come true.”
Spalletti and his squad will receive an emotional welcome when they return to Naples, where the city-wide partying is set to continue until at least their next home fixture against Fiorentina on Sunday evening.
“Seeing Neapolitans happy is enough to give you a sense of that joy they are feeling,” Spalletti told DAZN on the verge of tears.
“These people will look to this moment when life gets hard, they have every right to celebrate like this. You feel a bit more relaxed knowing that you’ve given them this moment of happiness.”
It was appropriate that Osimhen was the man to take Napoli over the line as the Nigeria striker has had the best season of his career and been key to Napoli’s historic charge to glory.
Osimhen’s title-deciding strike was his 22nd goal in 28 league appearances and rightly caused bedlam among the massed ranks of away fans who took over Udine.
Napoli’s 16-point lead over second-placed Lazio leaves them with a month-long parade between now and the end of the season, which will allow their long-suffering supporters to fully unload more than a generation of frustration.
Spalletti said Diego Maradona was watching over Napoli and helped his old club finally secure a Serie A title.
Maradona, who died in 2020, is considered by many the greatest-ever footballer and he spent his peak years at Napoli, where he won two league titles and the 1989 UEFA Cup.
Homages to Maradona can be found all over Naples and he is considered a patron saint by a football-mad city whose team had never reached the same heights since his departure in 1991.
It is the first Italian league title of Spalletti’s long and eventful coaching career, and the charismatic Tuscan was almost overcome with emotion as he can no longer be considered Italian football’s nearly man.
“Yes! We are the champions” supporter Roberto Santoniello told Reuters TV, proudly wearing his club’s shirt while others were screaming, waving flags, lighting flares and firecrackers in the central Trieste and Trento Square in Naples.
Police had banned fireworks but that did not stop the Neapolitan sky from being lit up as soon as the game against Udinese was over. Authorities also banned car and scooter traffic from the city centre in the hope of minimising risk to public order.
“I’ve been waiting for the Napoli Scudetto since I was small,” said a teenage girl out with two friends, her cheeks painted Napoli blue. “It’s a victory for the entire city, it’s wonderful,” she added, declining to give her name.