SPORTS DESK : 17 DECEMBER, 2023, 9:37 PM
Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia combined to give Napoli a 2-1 win over struggling Cagliari on Saturday and send their side into Serie A’s Champions League places.
The inspiration behind last season’s stunning league title triumph, Napoli’s attacking stars struck a goal each as the reigning champions moved up to fourth.
Kvaratskhelia swept home the decisive strike in the 75th minute, six minutes after Osimhen’s headed opener and shortly after Leonardo Pavoletti had equalised for the away side.
Walter Mazzarri’s side are two points ahead of fifth-placed Roma and Bologna, who face off on Sunday, following their third home win of what has been a troubled league season to date.
And Matteo Politano insisted that Napoli’s title defence is not over even though they are 11 points behind Inter Milan ahead of the league leaders’ match at Lazio on Sunday night.
“We’re slowly recovering some ground,” the forward told DAZN.
“We’ll keep taking it one game at a time but we want to fight for the Scudetto. There’s still a long way to go.”
Claudio Ranieri’s Cagliari stay 16th on 13 points, one point above the relegation zone and Empoli who lost 1-0 at Torino in Saturday’s late match.
Napoli won a match whose kick-off was delayed by 30 minutes after strong winds in Naples led to concerns over stadium safety.
Turnstiles at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona were left closed longer than usual while inspections to the ground’s roof were carried out.
No major damage was found, and once the match got underway Napoli pushed forward but struggled to break down resilient Cagliari.
After a series of wasted half chances Amir Rrahmani headed onto the base of the post just before the half hour, but Cagliari were in the game and dangerous on their forays forward.
Osimhen opened the scoring in the 69th minute when he powered a header through the hands of Cagliari’s despairing goalkeeper Simone Scuffet.
It was Osimhen’s second in as many games in all competitions as he looks to have fully recovered from his hamstring injury.
Napoli fans will be hoping that reports of Osimhen reaching an agreement to extend his contract to 2026 are accurate, as the 24-year-old is nearing a new deal which takes his salary to 10 million euros a year and has a release clause set at around 130 million euros.
Pavoletti, who shot Cagliari out of the relegation zone last weekend, bundled in his fourth goal of the campaign three minutes later.
But the home crowd was soon back on their feet for Kvaratskhelia’s winner, which came after superb hold-up play from Osimhen led to the Nigerian drilling over a low cross which his Georgian strike partner crashed in off the post.
That was Kvaratskhelia’s first home goal since late September and gave Napoli their second straight win in Naples after beating Braga midweek to reach the Champions League knockouts. BSS
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