Napoli paid the perfect tribute to Diego Maradona on Sunday by thumping Lazio 4-0 to move three points clear at the top of Serie A.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino was among those present in Naples as the southern Italian city honoured one of its adopted sons, who led Napoli to their only two league titles and the 1989 Uefa Cup and died a year ago on Thursday.
Fans chanted Maradona’s name as a statue, which depicts their idol in full flight atop the number 10, was carried around the pitch.
A tribute from Pele was shown on the stadium’s big screens, while players came out for their pre-match warm-up to the sound of “Life Is Life” by Opus, the song to which Maradona does keepie-uppies in one of the most beloved pieces of footage of the Argentine in his pomp.
Inspired by the emotional ceremony, Napoli took full advantage of AC Milan crashing to a 3-1 home defeat against Sassuolo to go it alone at the summit with an at times electrifying performance.
Kitted out in shirts which bore Maradona’s face, Luciano Spalletti’s table toppers came out like a team possessed and blew Lazio out of the water with three superb first half goals.
MERTENS SWEEPS LAZIO ASIDE
In almost perfect synergy with the occasion it was another adopted Neapolitan in Dries Mertens who led the charge, the Belgian nicknamed ‘Ciro’ scoring a brilliant brace of which Maradona himself would have been proud.
Piotr Zielinski got the ball rolling in the seventh minute by almost ripping a hole in the net with his rocket opener, and just three minutes later Mertens took the roof off the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona when he ended a brilliant move by dumping Patric on the deck with a feint and slotting home a cool finish.
After Luis Alberto and then Francesco Acerbi went close for Lazio in the space of a minute, Mertens effectively sealed the win with more than an hour to play with another wonderful goal, clipping a first-time strike that sailed over a despairing Pepe Reina and increased his club-record goal tally to 139.
The 34-year-old’s three superb strikes in his last two Serie A matches will also give Spalletti hope that he can get by without star striker Victor Osimhen, out for up to three months with facial fractures.
Fabian Ruiz capped a perfect night when he lashed home the fourth from distance.
AFCON: Why I nearly stopped Moses Simon from playing football – father
Super Eagles winger Moses Simon may not have had the opportunity of playing at the ongoing AFCON 2021 in Cameroon after his father Simon Otene Ijegwa revealed he nearly stopped him from playing football.
Speaking in old interview obtained by IDOMA VOICE, the player’s father, who is a retired soldier from Obagaji in Agatu LGA of Benue State, revealed he always beat the younger Moses then for playing football and refusing to go to school.
He said: “You know, those of us from Idoma speaking part of the country prefer farming to school.
”I had vowed that since I didn’t have the opportunity of acquiring western education, all my children must go to school.
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“But for him (Moses) he always goes late to school because of football. I had a bulala (horse whip) that I used in whipping him each time he refuses to go to school on time because of football.
“I flogged him because since I didn’t go to school, I wanted to make sure all my children are educated.
“So, I became happy when he took both his education and passion (football) seriously.”
EPL: Sargent nets brace as Norwich beat Watford to climb out of drop zone
Josh Sargent scored twice as Norwich secured a crucial 3-0 victory on the road against relegation rivals Watford.
Norwich looked marooned a matter of weeks ago, but their fortunes have been revived by Dean Smith – and the win was his 200th as a manager.
For Watford, the loss drops them below Norwich into the relegation zone, and Claudio Ranieri’s Hornets are heading in the wrong direction.
Burnley against Watford Premier League match postponedBurnley against Watford Premier League match postponed.
The visitors started the brightest and had a good chance to go ahead in the early stages.
Sargent picked the ball up on the right flank, cut inside to unleash a strike but his effort was wide of the mark.
After a poor half in terms of quality, Watford slowly grew into the game, and had a great chance to head into the break with the advantage.
Josh King made a run down the right flank in behind the Norwich defence and crafted an inviting ball towards the oncoming Moussa Sissoko, who could not sort his feet out and sent the ball well wide.
Early in the second half Norwich broke the deadlock. Sargent, who looked threatening all evening, latched onto a Teemu Pukki cross that was clipped in behind the 21-year-old, but after some incredible improvisation, he managed to get a flick on it with a trailing leg and put the Canaries ahead.
There was an 11-and-a-half minute delay in the second half as a section of the Vicarage Road lights went out, but after consulting with both managers referee Mike Dean decided to play on with most of the lights still active.
Minutes after play resumed, Sargent doubled Norwich’s lead with a brilliant header, rising highest at the back post and guiding the ball beyond the outstretched Daniel Bachmann.
An own goal from Juraj Kucka, minutes after coming on, rubbed salt into Watford wounds.
Howe defends Newcastle’s Saudi trip despite ‘sportswashing’ fears
Eddie Howe confirmed on Friday that Newcastle would travel to Saudi Arabia for a training camp despite a fresh warning from Amnesty International that the kingdom was “trying to sportswash their appalling human rights record”.
Relegation-threatened Newcastle, who are 80 per cent-owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), will fly to the Middle East after their Premier League game at Leeds on Saturday.
Amanda Staveley’s consortium bought the club in October against a background of concern over the Gulf state’s human rights record and accusations of “sportswashing”.
But Howe, who was appointed as Newcastle boss the following month, insisted the focus would be entirely on football.
“It’s a football decision,” he told his pre-match press conference, confirming the trip, which had been widely reported.
“We’re doing it for the benefit of the players, the group, in our fight to stay in the division, and that’s my only thought.
“The facilities and everything around the trip are going to be first-class. We will train and we will train hard and we will train in preparation for our next game, so that’s always going to be my only focus.”
Staveley’s consortium had to give assurances to the Premier League of the separation between the PIF, of which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the chairman and club chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan the governor, and the Saudi state in order for its takeover to be approved.
Asked whether he would be happy to meet the Crown Prince and if that might prove a distraction, Howe added: “There’ll be no distraction from my side.
“As I said, it’s about the training and making sure that the players are focused on our next game. We’re just doing it in a different environment to bring the group closer together.”
Amnesty International UK, however, warned that Newcastle’s trip could become “a glorified PR exercise for Mohammed bin Salman’s government”.
Chief executive officer Sacha Deshmukh said: “A training camp like this could easily turn into yet another PR opportunity for the Saudi authorities, who are clearly pursuing an aggressive policy of trying to sportswash their appalling human rights record.”
He said Newcastle players and staff ought to be prepared to speak out about human rights while in Saudi Arabia.
“If the Newcastle training camp becomes a glorified PR exercise for Mohammed bin Salman’s government, it will prove once again that sportswashing human rights crimes is the name of the game here, not football,” he added.
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Newcastle, second from bottom of the Premier League after just one win in 20 matches, have brought in defender Kieran Trippier and forward Chris Wood this month but further new signings have proved elusive.
“It’s been a slightly frustrating week for us in the transfer market,” said Howe.
“We obviously know we’re against a deadline and we’re desperately trying, everyone connected with the club, desperately trying to improve the squad, working very hard behind the scenes.”
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