Napoli emulate Maradona after ending long Serie A title wait
Napoli finally ended their long wait to win Serie A on Thursday, 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 gave Napoli the point they needed to end 33 years of waiting and spark wild celebrations among the thousands of fans in Udine, at the Stadio Maradona in Naples and all around southern Italy's biggest city.
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 to 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.
- Osimhen seals deal -
Napoli were straight on the front foot but looked worryingly bereft of ideas in the final third, and the away side were stunned in the 13th minute following the first spell of play in Udinese's favour.
Lovric was given the freedom of the penalty area after being fed by Destiny Udogie, and the Slovenia midfielder took advantage by placing a lovely shot in the top corner.
Lovric stung the fingers of former Udine youth product Alex Meret in the Napoli goal just after the half-hour mark, by which point Napoli hadn't created a single goalscoring opportunity.
Seconds later Osimhen, who looked like Napoli's only hope of scoring in the opening period, headed a deep cross just the wrong side of the post.
However, in the 52nd minute the 24-year-old stepped up as so often he has this season to unleash a wave of relief and blue smoke from the stands with his 27th goal in all competitions.
Osimhen was on hand to ram home the leveller when, after a corner, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia's low shot was blocked and fell to the clinical striker.
He had the ball in the net again in the 67th minute but was denied by referee Rosario Abisso who rightly whistled for a foul by Eljif Elmas.
But by that point the fans grew ever more sure that Thursday night would be the night, chanting victory songs in Udine while flares billowed and fireworks were set off at the other end of the country.
While fans had to be cleared from the pitch in Udine to avoid clashes with home supporters the Stadio Maradona was lit up by phones held by teary-eyed Neapolitans singing along to songs by late local singer-songwriter Pino Daniele.