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Rafael Benitez resigns as Napoli coach

Rafael Benitez moved a step closer to taking over Spanish giants Real Madrid when the Spaniard resigned as Napoli coach on Thursday.

Rafael Benitez resigns as Napoli coach
Rafael Benitez arrived in Italy in 2013. Photo: Genya Savilov/AFP

The out-of-contract 55-year-old, who arrived in Italy in 2013, will take charge of his final game when Napoli host Lazio on Sunday in effectively a playoff for the third Champions League spot in Serie A.

“This is the end of my two years experience here and I would like it to finish with a victory,” said Benitez as he thanked the club, its president and its supporters.

Benitez, won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005, the then UEFA Cup with Valencia in 2004 and the Europa League for Chelsea in 2013, is seen as one of the wiliest tacticians in world football.

Under his tenure Napoli were squeezed out of the 2014 Champions League at the group stage when they finished level on 12 points with Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund in the pool stage.

But they went on the win the Italian Cup and Supercup that year. The tough-talking coach suffered heavy criticism after defeat in the semi-finals of the Europa League two weeks ago to Ukraine outfit Dnipro, after also losing to Bilbao in the Champions League qualifying round in August.

“I thank 'Rafa' for these two seasons,” said Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis. “He won me over when I met him two years ago in London and that first impression has since been confirmed.”

Ruthless Real Madrid president Florentino Perez fired the latest incumbent of the Madrid hot-seat Carlo Ancelotti on Monday, and told the press his replacement would speak 'good Spanish'.

Ancelotti will be a hard act to follow as he delivered the club's most successful ever year in 2014, with the Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup adding to the glory of ending a 12-year wait for their tenth European Cup.

Benitez has won three European trophies but there are plenty of doubters as to whether he is the right man to deliver on the expectations of the world's most expensively assembled squad.

When Benitez took over then Champions League winners Inter Milan in 2010 his reputation took quite a battering despite winning the Club World Cup, he never won over the dressing room and was fired in late December of his first season there.

However, arguably his best work came during his last job in Spain over a decade ago in winning two league titles and the UEFA Cup with Valencia.

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Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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