Friday, 8 June 2007

Napoli and Genoa face off to regain former glory

Genoa host Napoli at the Stadio Luigi Ferrari on Sunday with both teams knowing victory would end their long absence from the Italian top flight.

The final round of Serie B has thrown up a mouth-watering contest in Genoa which for once will put both famous clubs in the spotlight for the right reasons.

Napoli are second on 78 points while third-placed Genoa are on 77 as they prepare to face each other. A win for either side would see them definitely join Serie B champions Juventus in claiming automatic promotion while, a draw would be enough for Napoli to return to Serie A.

However, both clubs could still go up automatically under Serie B's complicated promotion rules. If the third-placed side finishes 10 points or more above the team in fourth then they go up without the need for a play-off between third, fourth, fifth and sixth.

Piacenza, currently in fourth place on 67 points, are 10 points behind Gian Piero Gasperini's Genoa and must close the gap with a positive result against Triestina.

The two sides, both former Italian champions, are chasing successive promotions after they clambered out of the third tier of Italian football last season following controversial demotions.

Genoa are among the oldest clubs in Italy, having been formed by a group of Englishmen in 1893. They originally wore white shirts to mirror England's kit and played football and cricket against the personnel from visiting British ships.

The port city's name in Italian is Genova but the club have kept the English spelling to reflect their heritage, as well as their full title, Genoa Cricket and Football Club, and the St. George flag on their crest.

They dominated Italian football in the early years and won nine championships in all, but have not taken one since 1924.

The club then moved between the top two divisions and were last in the top flight in 1995.

Genoa did win promotion to Serie A in 2005 but instead were demoted to Serie C1 when they were found guilty of fixing their final match of the season against already-relegated Venezia, which they had won 3-2.

They made an immediate rise from the third division and have been challenging at the top of Serie B all this season.

Promotion jitters have hit though and Genoa conceded a goal in stoppage time in a 1-0 defeat at play-off chasers Mantova on Sunday to surrender second spot to Napoli, who beat Lecce 1-0 at home.

"We have complicated life but nothing is lost. A victory against Napoli is within reach," Genoa vice-President Giambattista Pastorello told Rai Radio. "We know that automatic promotion will be determined in the next 90 minutes. For what they have shown this season, where they have been leading protagonists from the start to the end, Genoa and Napoli deserve to go up."

Genoa striker Martin Adailton is hoping a passionate home crowd can inspire the Rossoblu to victory against the Neapolitans.

"Sunday against Napoli will be hard, but we are playing at home in front of our fans," Adailton said. "This is a great boost for us and must make sure we don't lose our enthusiasm. We must forget last Sunday's defeat against Mantova and concentrate ourselves on Sunday's game as we know with a victory we are going straight in Serie A."

SSC Napoli, best known for winning their first Scudetto in 1987 thanks to the wizardry of Diego Maradona, were relegated from the top flight in 2001 and with a debt estimated up to 70million euros, the club was declared bankrupt in August 2004.

Film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis formed a new club in Naples called Napoli Soccer but they had to start in the third tier, where they still attracted huge crowds.

They won promotion to Serie B last year and the club's name was soon restored to SSC Napoli, in a story which closely resembles Fiorentina's bankruptcy and re-emergence.

"Now we have to play the decisive last match against Genoa, a great team and a friendly club," De Laurentiis told Napoli’s official website. "We are like beautiful twins and we are two clubs that highly regard and respect each other."
Napoli coach Edoardo Reja is certain the match will be a great contest between two teams who boast 11 Scudetto titles between them.

"We have to play the decisive last match against Genoa, who are a great team and a friendly club, Reja said. "We are going to battle against a team who deserve to be in Serie A the same as we do."

Even if the gap narrows and the play-off tournament is triggered, the third-placed club would still be favourites for promotion because none of the play-off chasers are in the best of forms in recent matches.

Juventus, relegated from the top flight for their role in last summer’s Calciopoli scandal, coasted to the Serie B title and have amassed 85 points despite having had a nine-point deduction.

Despite the greater competition, most Italian supporters would secretly be glad to have "the big three" back in Serie A.

[Promotion/Relegation as it stands] - [Week 42 Permutations]

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