Napoli sunk by Champions League rivals Atalanta

AFP , Saturday 30 Mar 2024

Napoli's Champions League hopes were left hanging by a thread after Saturday's 3-0 home humbling by Atalanta as the outgoing Serie A title holders showed support for Juan Jesus after a racism controversy.

Teun Koopmeiners
Atalanta s Teun Koopmeiners, second right, celebrates after scoring during the Serie A soccer match between Napoli and Atalanta at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in Naples, Italy, Saturday, March 30, 2024. AP


First-half goals from Aleksei Miranchuk and Gianluca Scamacca and a late Teun Koopmeiners strike boosted sixth-placed Atalanta's chances of a spot in Europe's top club competition.

Francesco Calzona's Napoli stay seventh, nine points behind Bologna who are fourth and currently in the final Champions League spot ahead of their home fixture with rock-bottom Salernitana on Easter Monday.

Napoli are also six points behind fifth-placed Roma with the capital club at Lecce and Italy in a good position to get an extra spot in next season's revamped Champions League.

"We're not mathematically out of it but the chances of us getting there are very slim," said Calzona after his first league defeat as Napoli boss.

Napoli have 30 fewer points than they had at this stage last season and under Calzona have failed to keep a clean sheet in eight matches.

"In certain situations we melt away. We're fragile when we don't have the ball," said Calzona.

"We need to find some defensive solidity because it's not good enough."

Both Roma and Bologna have to travel south for matches at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona before the end of the campaign.

Atalanta lurk a point behind Roma with a game in hand and the wind in their sails after a hugely impressive win.

"The next month-and-a-half is very important for us, not dropping points at a ground like this is huge," said goalscorer Scamacca.

"Today we put in a perfect performance."

Scamacca's low strike was his first in the league since the end of January but his third in four matches after netting in both legs of Atalanta's Europa League win over Sporting Lisbon.

Jesus tribute

The 25-year-old is hoping for a spot in Italy's Euro 2024 squad after missing out on the European champions' most recent friendlies.

"(Italy coach Luciano Spalletti) can always count on me because I always give my best... I'm more consistent now and I'm very happy, above all for Atalanta who showed faith in me."

Napoli's players took the knee in support of their teammate Jesus during the pre-match playing of the Serie A anthem while fans shouted "no to racism" from the stands.

Jesus and Napoli were stunned by the Italian Football Federation's disciplinary tribunal clearing Inter Milan defender Francesco Acerbi of racist abuse for lack of evidence.

Acerbi had been accused of directing a racial slur at Jesus during Napoli's 1-1 draw at Inter before the international break, a claim the Italy defender denied.

Jesus started Saturday's match but the Brazilian was at fault for Scamacca's goal which put Atalanta two goals in front.

Napoli have had a dreadful time defending their third league title and didn't do enough to merit anything more from Saturday's match in the spring sunshine.

Miranchuk hit a great chance off the post in the third minute and when the Russian bundled home Atalanta's opener in the 26th minute it was a deserved lead for the away side.

Scamacca drove home his 10th goal of the season in all competitions on the stroke of half-time after pinching the ball from a dozing Jesus and exchanging passes with Miranchuk.

Napoli were loudly booed off when the teams left the field and the hosts responded to that displeasure after the break.

They were unlucky not to pull a goal back when Piotr Zielinski and Victor Osimhen both hit the woodwork in the 55th minute.

Osimhen was twice denied by Atalanta keeper Marco Carnesecchi before Koopmeiners made sure of the points with a precision left-footed finish to provoke another loud round of dissent from the stands.

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