Benitez counts on Italian Cup win to save Napoli’s season
Rafael Benitez, Napoli’s manager, is hoping the club’s second Italian Cup final triumph in three years will help make up for the disappointment of failing to challenge for league and Uefa Champions League honours this season.
Napoli, sitting third in Serie A, head to Rome’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday as slight favourites against Fiorentina.
But after a painful exit from the Champions League group stages and having failed to launch a league challenge to leaders Juventus, Benitez warned that failure to win would leave their season in tatters.
“We want to lift the Cup because everyone’s evaluation of our season will, in large part, depend on the result at the Olympic Stadium,” Benitez said.
Napoli last triumphed in the final two years ago when Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik scored in a 2-0 victory over Juventus.
Benitez could be forced to reshuffle his front line today depending on whether Gonzalo Higuain, who has scored 17 league goals this season, is fit to start.
Higuain suffered a calf injury in last week’s scoreless draw with Inter, and although he was named in Benitez’s squad on Thursday, media reports suggest he may not be fit enough for 90 minutes.
Gonzalo Rodriguez, Fiorentina’s forward, said his team will not be focusing on Higuain’s condition.
“We know how important he is to Napoli, but we’re focusing on ourselves,” said Rodriguez, who is one of several players giving coach Vincenzo Montella a selection dilemma.
Fiorentina have played some of the most attractive football in Italy this season and, sitting fourth in Serie A with three games remaining, have virtually secured their place in next season’s Europa League.
But with doubts over goalkeeper Neto (finger), Rodriguez (tonsilitis), Mario Gomez (knee) and Borja Valero (knee), Montella could be forced into some reshuffling.
The only good news Fiorentina received this week came when team doctors gave striker Giuseppe Rossi, sidelined with a knee injury since January, clearance to play.
But with Alessandro Matri, Josip Ilicic and Joaquin all fit to play, Rossi is expected to make a substitute’s appearance in Rome, where an estimated army of 28,000 Fiorentina fans will travel, hoping to see the club’s eighth Cup win, and first since 2001.
“Napoli are strong, and they’re the favourites, but we’re going to Roma to give our everything and try to win this for our fans,” Rodriguez said. “The fans have confidence in us and our game. We don’t want to let them down.”
Even without Higuain in their starting line-up Napoli will be confident that the likes of Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, Goran Pandev and Marek Hamsik can spearhead an attack that has produced 64 league goals this season, five more than Fiorentino have recorded.
They also will want to ignore a report in an English newspaper this week describing their city as a “mafia stronghold”. The Guardian linked Napoli with a transfer bid for the Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck, and made reference to the film The Godfather when suggesting Napoli would need to pay a premium to United for Welbeck, “an offer they can’t refuse”.
Nicola Lombardo, the club’s press officer, was furious with the tone of the report, suggesting The Guardian was wrong to employ “such a dated, dumb and vulgar cliche as this, linking the city of Naples to the mafia”.
“This is an archaic impression that is also rejected by English tourists who every year choose Italy, and Naples, as their holiday destination,” Lombardo said. “They would not do that if they thought that Naples is Italy’s mafia stronghold, a place where people fire at or rob each other in the street.”
Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE
Published: May 2, 2014 04:00 AM