Milan: Napoli celebrated cementing a third-place finish in Italy’s Serie ‘A’, and a place in the qualifying stages of next season’s Champions League, with a 3-0 rout of ten-man Cagliari on Tuesday. Fresh from victory over Fiorentina in a violence-marred Cup final, Rafael Benitez’s men were assured of third spot earlier in the evening when Fiorentina, in fourth, were stunned 4-3 by Sassuolo in Florence.
Celebrations at the San Paolo, however, were comparatively subdued as fans sung and waved banners in honour of 30-year-old Napoli fan Ciro Esposito, who is in hospital in a critical state after being shot on the fringes of the Cup final on Saturday. Benitez joined the many calls from Italy to find a solution to football-related violence.
Napoli went on to outclass their visitors from Sardinia, who played much of the second half with 10 men after 'keeper Marco Silvestri saw red for a foul on Goran Pandev on 54 minutes. By then, Napoli had already raced to a 2-0 lead thanks to Dries Mertens’ 33rd minute spot-kick after Daniele Conti had hauled Pandev down in the box as the striker prepared to strike.
Pandev doubled Napoli’s lead three minutes before the interval when he turned Jose Callejon’s unselfish square ball into a virtually empty net after the Spaniard had intercepted defender Davide Astori. Despite having little to do, Napoli ‘keeper Pepe Reina had suffered a slight muscle problem and, with number two Rafael also injured, was replaced for the second half by Roberto Colombo, the 38-year-old making his first official appreance for the Azzurri.
Cagliari ‘keeper Silvestri was at fault nine minutes after the restart when he brought Pandev down in the box as the Macedonian prepared to round him and shoot. Cagliari coach Ivo Pulga took off Agim Ibraimi and sent on ‘keeper Vlada Avramov, who was only too happy to see Marek Hamsik smash his spot-kick off the underside of the bar. Barely five minutes later, however, Blerim Dzemaili put the match beyond reach when he drove home Napoli’s third....