Football: Hamsik ensures Napoli end year on top

Napoli's record goal-scorer Marek Hamsik scored again to keep his side top of Serie A with a 1-0 win at Crotone on Friday as they sealed the symbolic title of Winter Champions.

Football: Hamsik ensures Napoli end year on top
Photo: AFP

It was the 117th goal in a Napoli shirt for the Slovakian international who last week overtook Diego Maradona as the club's all-time leading scorer.

Maurizio Sarri's side end 2017 with just one defeat in 19 games, against champions Juventus, who are four points behind ahead of their trip on Saturday to struggling Verona.

“It was important to bring home the three points,” said Hamsik. “But this title (Winter Champions) means nothing. We were already on the right track three years ago, but we realise it means nothing, as we want to be top at the end of the season.”

“Statistics mean nothing,” continued Sarri, whose side are the only team in Europe's top five leagues who are unbeaten away.

“It's a strong run, reaching the Champions League is very important for us, so having 48 points at the midway stage of the season gives us hope,” added the coach.

With Serie A playing through the Christmas holidays for the first time in nearly 30 years, Napoli's players showed signs of fatigue with Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne missing several chances.

The visitors started Friday's game in Calabria with a badge on their sleeves marking Hamsik's 116 goals and they counted on him to pull them through.

Hamsik opened the scoring after 17 minutes with a low finish from inside the box after a pass from Allan with the Brazilian playing a key role.

Crotone's new coach Walter Zenga was furious his side were not awarded a penalty for an apparent Mertens handball on 65 minutes.

Napoli could have pulled further ahead but were wasteful in front of goal, while Crotone goalkeeper Alex Cordaz saved shots from Amadou Diawara and Jose Callejon.

And the Napoli coach praised 26-year-old Allan's role on the night. “I think Allan deserves a Brazil call-up,” said Sarri.

“I also hope they don't call him up, as we need him. It's a real problem with the South American sides, as the journeys and logistics are complicated.”

Crotone stay third from bottom after their 12th loss in 19 games.

Napoli are four points clear of six-time defending champions Juventus. Inter Milan, in third, are at home to fifth-placed Lazio just days after their Italian Cup exit to city rivals AC Milan.

Inter are two points ahead of Roma, who host Sassuolo, with Lazio a further two points back in fifth with the two teams from the capital both having a game in hand.

READ ALSO: Teenager Cutrone scores extra time winner to give Milan dramatic derby triumph


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.