Sunday, May 26, 2024

Napoli 2-2 Roma: Talking points as Abraham rescues late point for Giallorossi

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial, Serie A 28 Apr 2024

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With both teams engaged in the races for European qualification, Napoli and AS Roma shared the spoils in what turned out to be an exciting contest at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Sunday.

The deadlock was broken in the 59th minute as Paulo Dybala converted a penalty for the visitors, scoring his first ever goal at the venue bearing the name of one of the greatest to ever play the game. Five minutes later, Mathias Olivera equalized for Napoli with a deflected effort, and Victor Osimhen turned the game around from the spot in Napoli’s favour in the 84th. But two minutes before the 90 were up, Tammy Abraham earned Roma a point.

The game

Napoli looked the better team for a long time, right from the start until somewhere in the middle of the second half. They created several good chances in the opening 45 minutes, but Roma threatened first in the sixth minute as Lorenzo Pellegrini missed a header from close range.

At the other end, Osimhen was stopped by Evan Ndicka in a promising situation inside the box only a minute later. In the 20th, Matteo Politano created a nice opportunity for Giovanni Di Lorenzo, but Mile Svilar in the Roma goal reacted well. Ten minutes later, Osimhen had another chance as he escaped Ndicka on the right, entered the box and fired from a tight angle, forcing another good save from Svilar.

The best chance of the half fell for Frank Zambo Anguissa for Napoli in the 36th minute. Osimhen won a header in the middle of the park and released the midfielder in behind the Roma defence, but as Svilar rushed out to tighten the angle, Anguissa embarrassed himself by smashing the ball far from the target.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia lacked a bit of luck two minutes later as his shot from range picked up a deflection and cheated Svilar, only to trickle wide. The Georgian winger tried again soon after, aiming this time for the far top corner, but Svilar produced a great flying save. In the last minute before the break, Kvaratskhelia delivered a dangerous cross into the box, but several Napoli players failed to make contact and it went out for a goal-kick.

It took until the 57th minute for the first notable moment of the second half to arrive. Politano showed creativity on the right wing again, this time employing Stanislav Lobotka. Svilar managed on divert Lobotka’s shot slightly, and Gianluca Mancini made sure Kvaratskhelia didn’t catch it on the far post.

Roma were looking rather pale in that period of the game, but only a minute after Lobotka’s chance, they suddenly went ahead completely against the run of play. A long pass into the box was brought down by Rasmus Kristensen, and Sardar Azmoun got to it in front of former Roma defender Juan Jesus, who reacted late and caught the Giallorossi striker on the foot. Referee Simone Sozza blew the whistle and pointed to the spot immediately, and a brief VAR check confirmed his decision. Dybala stepped up and fired past Alex Meret in the Napoli goal to send Daniele De Rossi’s team ahead, making the home side rue their missed chances greatly.

Roma’s lead, however, lasted only five minutes as Olivera won the ball high up the pitch, entered the box and took a shot. Kristensen attempted to block it, causing the ball to loop high and fly over Svilar into the net.

Osimhen came close again in the 65th minute, missing the target with a well-taken header by mere inches. Two minutes later, Roma worked up a good position for Pellegrini to try his luck again, but Meret was outstanding as he denied the visitors’ captain.

Four minutes later, De Rossi made a double change which would impact the remainder of the game significantly. Renato Sanches replaced Edoardo Bove in the middle of the park, and Azmoun made way upfront for Abraham.

But before the changes were to make their mark on the match, Napoli came close several times more. Cyril Ngonge, who had come on to replace Politano, missed the target narrowly from range, and Kvaratskhelia failed to get on the end of an excellent cross from Osimhen in a very dangerous position, thwarted by Kristensen. Finally, Osimhen escaped Mancini having been released into space by Ngonge and shot fiercely, giving Svilar yet another chance to show his quality between the posts.

And then, Sanches, involved in a duel with Kvaratskhelia on the edge of the Roma box, most unwisely stuck his foot out and caught the Napoli winger on the ankle. The referee initially waved for the play to go on, but there came a call from the VAR room, sending him to the pitch-side screen. Having seen the footage, Sozza changed his decision and awarded a penalty for Napoli, which Osimhen converted.

With just six minutes left on the clock when Osmimhen put Napoli ahead, Roma had no time to waste and charged forward. Minute 88 had just started when Dybala’s long-range effort caught a deflection and went out for a corner. The Argentinian took it himself, and Ndicka flicked it on for Abraham to head in from close range at the far post. The linesman’s flag went up for offside, giving Napoli a brief hope they would still win the game, but another VAR intervention ruled differently and the goal was allowed to stand.

Svilar’s choices

Even though he was beaten twice, the Roma goalkeeper was surely the best player in this game. With no less than seven saves, most of them quite difficult, he showed quite clearly why he remains ahead of Portugal international Rui Patricio between the sticks.

Interestingly enough, the 24-year-old shot-stopper doesn’t play for any national side at the moment, despite being the citizen of both Belgium and Serbia. Having represented Belgium at every youth level, Svilar, born in Antwerpen, chose to play for Serbia as a senior international and stood between the posts for the Balkan country in a friendly match against Qatar in 2021. An then, quite suddenly, he changed his mind and decided to represent Belgium, a decision made void by FIFA who ruled against allowing him to switch the national shirt for the second time.

It remains to be seen whether Svilar agrees to play for Serbia again, or, indeed if the Serbia head coach Dragan Stojkovic calls him up even if he does. There’s very little time until the start of Euro 2024 and therefore, very little chance for him to appear at the tournament, but he could be of great service to Serbia in the future if he chooses such a course.

The aftermath

By not winning at the Maradona, fifth-place Roma have failed to take advantage of Bologna being held by Udinese to close the four-point gap to fourth place. But with Italy set to have an additional spot in next season’s Champions League, even if they stay fifth, the Gialorossi will play in UEFA’s elite club competition in 2024/25.

As for Napoli, the now former Serie A champions have fallen from eighth to ninth place, with Fiorentina overtaking them after thrashing relegation-battlers Sassuolo. The two teams have a tally of 50 points each, but the Viola have the superior goal-difference.

Obviously, nothing is settled for Napoli or Roma, and while Napoli travel to Udinese next week, Roma face a very difficult task of hosting third-place Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico.


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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