Until recently, Argentina had not won the Fifa World Cup title since 1986. Napoli had not won the Italian Serie A title since 1990. Both those triumphs – over three decades ago – came in the presence of a certain Diego Armando Maradona.
At Qatar 2022, Lionel Messi fulfilled his destiny of becoming world champion as he led Argentina to the Fifa World Cup title. And a few months down the line, on Thursday, Napoli finally ended their long wait to win Serie A, joining late club icon Maradona in the history books by being crowned Italian champions with a record-equalling five matches to play.
Maradona had last led Argentina and Napoli to these titles in the 1980s and all these years later, two have come in quick succession for the teams he played for with such distinction.
An animated video by Bleacher Report went viral, showcasing the iconic Maradona warm-up routine for Napoli.
“Seeing Neapolitans happy is enough to give you a sense of that joy they are feeling. 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.”— - Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti.
“It is an amazing feeling, we have waited so many years for this moment. To be able to deliver the Scudetto to the Neapolitans is something that we will never forget in a hurry and will continue to live in our hearts for the rest of our lives.”— - Victor Osimhen who scored the crucial goal in Thursday’s 1-1 draw at Udinese which secured the title.
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 Nigerian 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.
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.
Messi does it at Qatar
Of course, a few months before Napoli, there was Messi and Co in Qatar.
In what would be go down as a tournament he sparkled at, Messi saved his best for last, bringing the curtain down on his Fifa World Cup career – possibly – by finally landing the one major title that has eluded him.
In the end, the greatest player of his generation, possibly of all time, bowed out with victory in arguably the greatest World Cup final of them all.
It was a perfectly scripted farewell for the 35-year-old Argentine captain, playing in what he has said would be his fifth and final World Cup tournament.
Messi was a beacon of calm amid frequent outbreaks of pandemonium at the Lusail Stadium as Argentina twice squandered winning positions, eventually taking the title on penalties after the game finished 3-3 in extra-time.
The tournament started with a defeat to Saudi Arabia but Messi rallied his troops and Lionel Scaloni’s men scripted a fantastic comeback to go all the way.
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With AFP inputs