Napoli’s Georgian forward Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (C) celebrates after opening the scoring during the Italian Serie A football match between Napoli and Atalanta on March 11, 2023 at the Diego-Maradona stadium in Naples. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia lived up to comparisons with icon Diego Maradona with a wonder goal which has Napoli on a high ahead of their Champions League showdown with Eintracht Frankfurt.
The Georgia winger has become one of Europe’s hottest properties after an incredible first season in Naples, the most preternaturally gifted Napoli player since Maradona plied his tried in southern Italy in the 1980s.
And now he is set to lead Napoli to the quarter-finals of Europe’s top club competition for the first time in their history, 13 goals and as many assists in all competitions making him the star — alongside Victor Osimhen — of a truly brilliant team.
His outrageous goal which set Napoli on their way to a 2-0 win over Atalanta on Saturday was the perfect example of the 22-year-old’s close control and precision play which has been decisive time and again this season.
Having been beaten at home by Lazio the week before there were some fears after the goalless first half that a spring collapse typical of Luciano Spalletti teams was on the cards, but then ‘Kvaradona’ sprinkled his star dust.
After collecting a pass from Osimhen in a Napoli counter-attack Kvaratskhelia charged at the Atalanta defence with no back-up.
His first feint sent Rafael Toloi spinning and Giorgio Scalvini slide-tackling thin air, but having already fooled four defenders he then cut back inside the befuddled Toloi before smashing home at the near post.
By the time he took his shot Kvaratskhelia was alone in the penalty area with seven Atalanta players powerless to stop the goal which set Napoli towards a win and all but sealed their first Scudetto since 1990.
“He scored a goal worthy of Maradona, this time you really can say it, looking at the quality of control in such a tight space… when he runs at you he’s basically unmarkable,” Spalletti told reporters after the match.
Italy’s champions-elect face Eintracht with a 2-0 lead to defend following a crushing first-leg display in Germany and nothing but positive vibes surrounding the team.
– Deep run –
An incredible 18 points clear at the top of Serie A, Spalletti’s entertaining side are eyeing a deep run in Europe and have the perfect opportunity to make the last eight.
Spalletti said after the first leg that Napoli’s biggest enemy was “to think it is already done” but the stars could hardly have aligned better for his team.
He should have basically his entire squad available for Wednesday’s match after knocks to starting goalkeeper Alex Meret and key centre-back Kim Min-jae suffered before and during Saturday’s win turned out not to be serious.
Meanwhile Eintracht are without their star striker Randal Kolo Muani who was sent off in the first leg and has scored eight goals in 11 matches in all competitions since the turn of the year.
And Eintracht won’t have their usual army of away fans in Naples after the city’s prefecture banned people residing in Frankfurt from buying tickets on Sunday.
On Saturday an initial ban on anyone in Germany buying tickets, imposed on Friday by the Italian interior ministry following trouble at the first leg, had been overturned following an appeal from Eintracht.
The latest decision to limit ticket sales as a public safety measure has infuriated Eintracht, whose board member Philipp Reschke said in a statement that the club would not take up any of its allocation.
“It is a well-known fact that two-thirds of our fans are from outside the Rhine-Main region and do not come from Frankfurt,” he said.
“There would be countless possible ways of actually circumventing this decree and getting parts of our fan-base into the stadium… we are not going to divide ourselves up into postcode areas.”
Eintracht are appealing the decision despite not taking the 2,700 places available, but “in view of the timing, (it’s) more about the principle for us and how it affects future decisions.”
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