Napoli's fervent supporters daring to believe: Scudetto is 'in our hands'
Naples, Italy, Jan 31, 2023 (AFP) - Serie A title fever is sweeping Naples as the football-mad city hopes that rampant Napoli will end more than three decades of waiting to be crowned kings of Italy.
Sunday night's 2-1 win over Roma and the sudden collapse of defending champions AC Milan's title defence allowed Napoli to extend their lead at the top to a whopping 13 points.
No team has had such a huge advantage on the chasing pack after 20 games played since Serie A switched to three points for a win in 1994, and the chance of a first Scudetto since the days when Diego Maradona wore Napoli's blue has filled fans with both anticipation and trepidation.
"At this point only we can lose it now. It's all in our hands," one supporter, Mirko Brandini, told AFP.
The 18-year-old travelled to Naples from Tuscany with three friends and hung around outside Napoli's Stadio Maradona to bathe in the euphoria of a thrilling win against one of their fiercest rivals.
Napoli have dropped just seven points all season and on Sunday came through a tough test against resilient Roma.
The visitors' forward Stephan El Shaarawy equalised Victor Osimhen's opener to silence the boisterous home crowd before super-sub Giovanni Simeone grabbed the win with an 86th minute goal.
It was Napoli's eighth straight home league win, the longest winning run in Naples since they racked up 11 on the bounce between December 1989 and April 1990 -- the season Napoli last won the title.
However despite their massive advantage and a four-match winning streak since losing at second-placed Inter Milan at the start of the month, anxious Neapolitans won't believe it's over until it's really over.
"You can't say anything yet, we're superstitious in Naples," said Esther from the nearby Amalfi coast.
She spoke to AFP in Naples' central Spanish Quarter, in front of a famous fresco of Maradona painted after Napoli's last title triumph in 1990.
Luca, an employee at a toy company, remembers Italy's last World Cup win in 2006 and the recent European Championship triumph but at 30 years old is too young to have any memories of Napoli's last Scudetto, won at the tail end of Maradona's tumultuous time in Naples.
"It's not guaranteed yet, we need to take it game by game," he says.
"I experienced the World Cup and Euro win but this would be something else entirely! We've been waiting for so long."
He said winning the title would be a sort of "revenge" on Italy's more wealthy north which has dominated the game's honours as much as it has the country's economy.
"It's hard for us to win, for economic, social, political and cultural reasons," says Naples native Pasquale Esposito, 68, who vividly remembers the Maradona era.
"I was working in Milan at the time so I went to Turin, to the San Siro and I had the pleasure of watching Maradona play.
"But the best thing was when coming back to Naples I would see on a motorway barrier graffiti saying 'Welcome to the city of the Scudetto'. That, for me who was coming home, was a special feeling."
Giuseppe Bruscolotti had an even better view of their first league title in 1987, the penultimate season of his long career playing in Napoli's defence which began in 1972.
"We're part of history but the current team are becoming part of it too. The only thing left for them to do is win the title," a confident Bruscolotti told AFP, seemingly less troubled by superstition than the fans.
"Napoli will win the league. History shows that a team with that many points at the halfway point has always won it."
Felice De Simone and Francesco Bovenzi, both 18-year-old students, said a title win would be greeted by a traditional Naples speciality -- fireworks being set off all over the city.
"If we win the party will last at least a year. The place will be quite a mess!"