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REPORT | Udinese 1-1 Napoli

This match in Serie A last year was historic. An equalizer from Victor Osimhen gave Napoli a 1-1 draw, and that point was enough to crown the Neapolitans as champions of Italy after the whistle.

The May 4, 2023 result sparked epic scenes of joy in the city where Diego Maradona won two league titles. The modern heroes of Naples had finally added the third. This year, however, the atmosphere around the Napoli team was very different.

Napoli were ten points behind Champions League football before this match, and Udinese were in a difficult situation of their own; three points from safety. Napoli’s star player Khvicha Kvaratskhelia was absent on this trip due to injury, but Napoli had not lost to Udinese since 2016.

The Udinese manager is none other than Fabio Cannavaro. Italy’s World Cup-winning captain was born and raised in Napoli but desperately needed a result against his hometown club on Monday night.

However, the opening phase of this match was quiet. In the 15th minute of the game, banners were unveiled in memory of the 1976 Friuli earthquake. Everyone in the stadium and both groups of players stopped to applaud the tribute to the tragic events of May 6, 1976, when almost 1,000 people died and more than 157,000 lost their homes.

Back to the football and the teams went into the tunnel before the break with the score at 0-0, and I mean tied. In the first half there were zero shots on target from both teams and few expected goals. Exactly what you would expect if you watched this extremely boring 45 minutes. The second half could only get better.

Fortunately, things turned out a little better. Victor Osimhen struck after 52 minutes to take the lead. The Nigerian forward flew through the air to meet the cross from the right wing. Italian international Matteo Politano provided the assist, Napoli were in the board and Udinese were in big trouble.

The home side finally woke up and responded with some pressure of their own, but as the game drifted into the latter stages it felt like the visitors had the better chance. Then, with just over ten minutes to go, Osimhen’s masked figure found the back of the net for a second time, but his finish was disallowed as he had strayed just offside.

With less than five minutes left on normal time, Victor Osimhen was once again the man in the news, but unfortunately for him this time it was for the wrong reasons. The attacker winced in pain as he staggered off the field. It appears he hurt his knee without colliding with anyone, but instead from his boot getting stuck in the turf and turning the wrong way. A painful thing for the goalscorer: he was replaced by Giovanni Simeone.

Stoppage time arrived and Udinese started throwing ‘Hail Mary’ type balls into the box, but wouldn’t you know it, they were having success. Isaac Good luck. The former Watford and Granada frontman controlled a knockdown in the penalty area and found the far corner of the goal. It wasn’t exactly deserved, but it was exactly what the home team needed and there was a sigh of relief among the supporters.

In the end, a draw was probably a fair result, neither team set the world on fire on Monday and both showed why they have had such frustrating seasons. Neither team completed the 90 minutes with 1.0 xG, unsurprisingly, and so both were fortunate to score.

Regardless of the Champions League, Napoli are five points behind Lazio and any European football for that matter. A frustrated Victor Osimhen vented to his teammates after the final whistle blew, what a contrast in emotions to the same result in the same match last season.

Cannavaro and Udinese might have wanted more, but this is a good point for a side scrape at the bottom. Especially considering they went into stoppage time looking unhappy and down a goal. Udinese are now two points behind Safety and Empoli. They play each other in the penultimate match of the season, but first Udinese must try to take something back from a trip to Lecce. A defeat in that sense could be catastrophic.

Joseph O’Sullivan | GIFN

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