The game between Napoli and Lazio from April 3, 2011, is one of those football matches that would make even an occasional viewer fall in love with Serie A and Italian football. Ninety minutes of pure adrenaline in which the Partenopei and the Biancocelesti engaged in a spectacular goal-fest. It was Napoli to come on top in the end, but only after being in the rearview mirror for most of the clash.
Guided by Tuscany-born coach Walter Mazzarri, Napoli were living a thrilling season led by their “Three Tenors” – with trequartista Marek Hamsik playing behind strikers Ezequiel Lavezzi and, moreover, Edinson Cavani.
The Uruguay international had landed in Naples on loan from Palermo and was distinguishing himself for this peculiar habit of bagging hat-tricks. If he didn’t score at least three goals in every match he found the back of the net, he was not happy.
He did it against Juventus, in a game that is legendary to the Partenopei fan. He did it against Sampdoria, then against Milan. All in the same season. And then, he did it against Lazio, in another classic match from that season that saw Napoli bounce back twice to finally overcome the Biancocelesti 4-3 at the then San Paolo Stadium.
It was a Sunday lunch-time match, and the Partenopei received a Lazio side coached by Edoardo “Edy” Reja – a manager very dear to the Neapolitan people. It was under Reja’s guidance that, a few years earlier, Napoli had finally managed to regain top-flight status after a seven-year-long dark age. Reja brought them from Serie C1 to Serie A in two seasons.
Lazio were a tough opponent to deal with. For a few weeks early in the season, they had even been topping the table. They were a solid side with no absolute top player but a good bunch of remarkable names like Argentine striker Mauro Zarate and Brazilian midfielder Hernanes – who would be their season top scorer at 11 but was not available on that day.
The start of the game was all for Napoli and Lazio goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had to push back a Marek Hamsik shot from close range in the early stages.
But, on 29 minutes, it was Lazio’s Stefano Mauri to open the scoring with a spectacular solo action. With a bit of luck, Mauri resisted a tackle, then sneaked between two defenders to go one-on-one with the keeper and beat him with a soft shot at the far post.
Mauri could have even doubled his personal tally but, after receiving a brilliant filtering pass from Christian Brocchi, sent his conclusion a few inches too wide this time.
Twelve minutes into the second half, defender Andre Dias was picked from a free kick and headed the ball home to make it 2-0 for the Biancocelesti. The game seemed already over.
Just three minutes later, however, Napoli reopened it in a similar fashion. From a Lavezzi free kick, Giuseppe Sculli deflected the ball towards his own goal, where Andrea Dossena was ready to push it into the back of the net.
Two more minutes, and Napoli had their second. This time, the free kick was from the left-hand side. A deflection from the defense seemed to have sent the ball past the end line but Christian Maggio believed in it and headed it back in the middle of the box, offering Cavani an easy chance to draw level for the Partenopei and make the San Paolo literally explode.
It was his 23rd league goal and, with it, El Matador became the Napoli player to have scored the most goals in a single Serie A season, beating a record Antonio Vojak was holding since 1933 (!). His record would last only a few years though, until Gonzalo Higuain demolished it with an astonishing 36 goals in 2015.
Lazio were now confused and risked conceding a third one, with Giuseppe Mascara taking advantage of a defensive blunder to fire his shot at Muslera, who answered with a fine save.
Then, the Biancocelesti woke up again, charged up by an incredible screamer from Christian Brocchi, whose shot from outside the box made Morgan De Sanctis’ crossbar rattle before bouncing right on the goal line. Or perhaps even past the goal line. We will never know, as the VAR was yet to come.
Soon later, Mauro Zarate penetrated the Napoli box and challenged De Sanctis with a tricky diagonal shot. The Napoli keeper palmed it away, but defender Salvatore Aronica pushed the ball into the back of his net in a clumsy clearance attempt. Lazio were ahead again.
Napoli got their opportunity to equalize when defender Giuseppe Biava knocked Cavani down in the box. He was sent off, while the Uruguayan made the best out of his chance from the spot to bring the score at 3-3.
Such an incredible game deserved a worth ending, and Cavani decided to put the cherry on top of his performance with a goal as beautiful of Mauri’s opener. Mascara served him a golden assist with his head, El Matador saw that Muslera was far from his posts and, in a split second, made the ball bounce once, then put it past the keeper with a clinical lob, anticipating his marker at the same time.
It was the 32nd goal scored by Cavani in that season – the one the made Napoli conquer one of the most thrilling wins in their history.
With this triumph, the Partenopei grabbed the second spot in the table, three points behind top-ranked Milan. Their challenge would be unsuccessful as the Rossoneri would end up winning the title, but Napoli proved that they could be a Scudetto contender for the first time in almost 20 years. For a club that only four years earlier was still fumbling in the second division, that was already enough.
April 3, 2011 – Serie A 2010-11 Round 31
NAPOLI – LAZIO 4-3
SCORERS: 29′ Mauri (L), 57′ Andre Dias (L), 60′ Dossena (N), 62′ Cavani (N), 68′ Aronica (N, o.g.), 82′ Cavani (N, pen.), 88′ Cavani (N)
|NAPOLI (3-4-1-2): De Sanctis; Campagnaro, P. Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio, Pazienza (57′ Mascara), Yebda (84′ Lucarelli), Dossena (77′ Gargano); Hamsik; Lavezzi, Cavani (Iezzo, Santacroce, Ruiz, Sosa) Coach: Mazzarri|
|LAZIO (4-1-4-1): Muslera; Lichtsteiner, Biava, Andre Dias, Garrido; Brocchi; Mauri, Gonzalez, Bresciano (83′ Stendardo), Sculli; Zarate (83′ Floccari) (Berni, Scaloni, Hernanes, Foggia, Kozak) Coach: Reja|
REFEREE: Mr. Banti from Livorno
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Dossena, Campagnaro, Cavani (N), Andre Dias, Brocchi, Sculli (L); Red Cards: Biava, Reja (L)