Sorrento, Napoli. Exactly one year after Italy won the FIFA World Cup in Germany in 2006, the country was still riding on football ecstacy. Smiling faces all around, fresh damping pizze out of the ovens, hospitality, sharp dressed men and women, a hilarious bus driver,… Vedi Napoli e poi muori, a famous Italian saying. ‘See Naples and then die.’ Apparently, visiting the city should be no1 on everyone’s wish list in the world. While one can highly doubt that sentence, it was a holiday to remember for me. Guess there’s a tiny bit of wisdom in it, though it can never match my Rome trip.
You see, Italy as a country has always fascinated me since I was a kid. Practically every region has its charms. Though as beautiful as Capri and the Amalfi coast were, they don’t match the feeling of seeing the Olimpico, Colosseo, Vatican and Circus Maximus (where Totti and co celebrated their Scudetto in 2001) in real life. Rome, Naples. Two destinations that I can scratch from my bucket list (Sicily, Bologna, Venice are the other ones).
Now, before I start to sound like a travel agent, here’s the reason why I decided to start with a rather personal intro: the upcoming derby del sole on Saturday. Roma-Napoli. A game of the utmost importance for both cities. Not only Roma was/is facing a dip, also Napoli hasn’t been quite the same since February. 2 points out of 4 games, a drop from third to fifth, being surpassed by Lazio and Sampdoria while Fiorentina is breathing in their necks,… Ouch. No, the fluffy unicorns are nowhere to be found in the region of Naples. If they want to bring back Champions League to the San Paolo, they need a win and fast. Next game: AS Roma. The team that is standing on a spot that is so precious and sought-after: second place, automatic CL qualification. Aka the money maker.
So we have some pretty interesting ingredients here: two teams who are currently underperforming, two fan bases that are emotional wrecks right now and probably Napoli’s last chance for a top 2 finish. The winner gets a huge boost, the consequences for the loser could be enormous. For Roma it’s yet another D-day. The last home win in Serie A at the Olimpico? Ages ago, in a time when Nokia was hip, Francesco Totti just a toddler, Daniel Craig wasn’t James Bond, Parma FC had a lot of money and Lindsday Lohan was still smokin’ hot… Ok, I exaggerated a bit, it was ‘only’ November 30, 2014 but you get the point.
Napoli’s frontline: Higuain, Mertens, Hamsik, Callejon. Me don’t like it. Those players dig a confrontation with Roma. All of them have already scored one or more goals against us in the past. They know they can and will hurt the Giallorossi on Saturday. Roma has to counter it with a struggling and shaky defence, an uncertain midfield and an attack force that has failed to score since February 26 (Gervinho and Adem against Feyenoord).
And yet, that small hard-fought 0-1 win in Cesena, how dull it might feel, could be the key. A win is a win is a win is a win after all. Roma’s got one, Napoli is still looking for one. Two in a row for Rudi and maybe his train is back on track. Roma is 100% focused on Serie A, no Coppa or Europa League duties. Napoli on the other hand have to seriously multitask and face an extremly busy schedule in April: the return leg against Lazio in the Coppa semies + two difficult matches against Wolfsburg. They simply can’t afford a hiccup right now. That’s the reason why Roma has to benefit from the situation.
Napoli’s nerves, Roma’s resurgence. I can’t see this one ending in a draw. There will be tears, it’s going to be dramatic for one of them.
The imposing Olimpico vs the Vesuvio. The water of Tevere vs Amalfi coast. Roman spaghetti alla carbonara vs Pizza Napolitana. Two trips worth savouring. Two memories. As obvious as my choice would be (Rome, duh), it’s first and foremost an Italian clash. Italian football, a duel between Italian teams and Italian fans. Sometimes that suffices for me.
God, I love that crazy country.