The Derby del Sole: Five Memorable Napoli vs Roma Matchups

Whether it is for ideological or economic reasons, a football derby can be based on many conflicts anywhere in the world. A disagreement in the club’s management can lead to the founding of a new club and thus the birth of a new rivalry. Sometimes, you just want to get the upper hand over the other team in your city or region.

When we analyze the main rivalries in Italian football, the North vs South divide across the country stands out. The economic development of the northern part of Italy also had an impact on football as, traditionally, the teams from the richer cities like Milan and Turin have dominated the Serie A.

However, some teams from the South managed to break the dominance in the 1980s. In this period, southern sides Roma and Napoli were able to battle for the title and even secure a few Scudetto. This led to the birth of a new rivalry, which was dubbed the Derby del Sole.

Since 1928, when they met for the first time, until the mid-1980s, the two sides were basically friends as they were both busy trying to overcome the stronger clubs from the north of Italy. For this reason, it was quite common to see the Romanisti and the Partenopei fans sitting together on the stands and cheering for each other. It had also become a tradition for a Roma fan and a Napoli fan to meet in the middle of the pitch and exchange flags before the game.

So, how did a matchup that used to be played in such a friendly atmosphere for years become one of the biggest rivalries in Serie A?

Apparently, it all started with Diego Maradona’s transfer to Napoli. As more and more home supporters came to the San Paolo Stadium, Roma fans started to have fewer tickets available than what they used to have when visiting the Napoli turf.

Roma’s Curva Sud and Napoli’s Curva B had always welcomed each other, but with Diego’s arrival the stands were not enough for both groups. For this reason, the Curva Sud visitors were moved to another area, but they got into a fight with some Napoli fans who had no idea of the friendship. Fortunately, the Curva B representatives prevented things from escalating further but a first small rift opened.

The following year, former Lazio player Bruno Giordano joined Napoli, and the situation escalated. Although images of intimacy and welcoming were still on display throughout the match played in October 1986, Roma’s hate for the former Laziale Giordano was more intense, especially as the game ended 1-0 in Napoli’s favor thanks to his assist to Maradona.

One year later, in October 1987, the friendship was ultimately broken. During the traditional exchange of flags that used to take place before every Roma vs Napoli match, the Partenopei stands chanted in favor of Roma, but the Napoli representative who approached the Curva Sud was met with insults and bottles thrown from the stands.

The Napoli supporters thus retorted with more insults and player Salvatore Bagni went so far as to waving a gesto dell’ombrello (an Italian gesture resembling an umbrella handle, which mean “f… off” in the Belpaese) to the opposition stands.

The friendship was over and the Derby del Sole (“Derby of the Sun”), which takes his name from the Autostrada del Sole highway that connects Rome to Naples, became one of the most bitter rivalries in the Italian top-flight.

More than 35 years since the breaking of the friendship, the Roma vs. Napoli feud continues to be a source for controversy and even for tragic events, which culminated in 2014 with the death of Napoli fan Ciro Esposito. He was shot by Roma supporter Daniele De Santis during a fan clash as the Partenopei were in the Italian capital to play in a Coppa Italia Final.

Five Unforgettable Napoli vs Roma Matchups

But aside from those tragic events, remembering the old days and looking back at some Napoli vs Roma matches can be a good way to embrace the Derby del Sole vibe. That’s why we picked some five historical occurrences to make the time pass quickly until the kick-off:

1. Roma vs Napoli 1-1 (October 25, 1987)

The mother of all Roma vs Napoli matches. Roma hosted the defending champions at the Stadio Olimpico. Napoli kept getting stronger every year and Bruno Giordano’s arrival had brought tension to the matchup with the Giallorossi.

Both teams had had a good start of the season. Fans from both sides used to exchange their flags as a symbol of their friendship but the Roma side refused to follow the tradition this side. It was the calm before the storm.

After a goalless first half , the Lupi took the lead with a Roberto Pruzzo header. Things got worse for Napoli as Careca and Alessandro Renica were sent off. However, the Partenopei managed to equalize with Giovanni Francini on 67 minutes. Roma kept pushing and tried to make the best of their two-men advantage but the Azzurri weathered the storm and managed to salvage a point.

2. Napoli vs Roma 2-2 (June 10, 2001)

Ahead of the summer of 2001, Roma were at the top of the Serie A league under Fabio Capello and their third Scudetto was just around the corner. On their way to glory, they had the unique opportunity to send Napoli to Serie B as the Partenopei, on the other hand, were going through some dark times.

Even though everyone expected an easy win for Roma, Napoli proved they were not a piece of cake. Nicola Amoruso scored the opener for the Azzurri but Argentine legend Gabriel Batistuta pulled off an equalizer before half time.

The Giallorossi scored again in the beginning of the second half, this time thanks to Francesco Totti. The Ottavo Re di Roma (“8th King of Rome”) put the ball into the back of the net but touched it with his hand in the buildup.

However, the game was not over. In the 81st minute, Walter Samuel committed a foul in a dangerous zone. Fabio Pecchia stepped to the free kick spot and took advantage of goalie Francesco Antonioli’s mistake to set the score at 2-2. The Derby del Sole ended in a draw, leaving both sides to decide their fate in the next game.

3. Roma vs Napoli 4-4 (October 20, 2007)

This was the first Derby del Sole after Napoli came back to Serie A following a five-year ordeal in the lower divisions, and such a classic game it became!

Napoli took the lead with Ezequiel Lavezzi after just two minutes but the Giallorossi came from behind with Francesco Totti and Simone Perotta and put themselves in the driving seat before the half time break.

Napoli equalized early into the second period, then Daniele De Rossi and Walter Gargano changed the scorecard again with two spectacular goals from outside the box.

The match already had its place in the history of the Derby del Sole, but David Pizarro still wanted to join the party and put his stamp on the proceedings with a Roberto Carlos-esque free kick on 80 minutes. Roma were close to getting the W, but Napoli’s Marcelo Zalayeta was the one to have the last word, setting the score at 4-4.

This was not the first Derby del Sole to feature eight goals (Roma won 8-0 in 1959 and 6-2 in 1997) but a battle to the death like this is something rare and special!

4. Roma vs Napoli 3-2 (February 5, 2014)

This occurrence happened in the first leg of a Coppa Italia Semi Final matchup. Gervinho opened the scoring for Roma as he even dribbled past goalkeeper Reina before slotting the ball into the empty net. Kevin Strootman then made it two for the Giallorossi with a brilliant screamer.

Napoli fought back and halved the gap in the second half thanks to their once fan favorite Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine went for a cross from the left side in the middle of the box, but goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis’ clumsy intervention made the ball bounce into the back of his own net.

Dries Mertens’ formidable solo run ended with a fine shot that drew level for the Partenopei, but Roma snatched the W at the last gasp with another Gervinho goal. Unfortunately for them, Napoli won the second leg in an emphatic fashion (3-0) and advanced to the Final.

5. Napoli vs Roma 4-0 (November 29, 2020)

This was an emotional match as it was played in an empty stadium due to the COVID restrictions and only a few days after the passing of Diego Armando Maradona. Napoli took the field dressed in blue and white striped shirts and black shorts to replicate the Argentina outfit and pay homage to the memory of their dearest champion.

After the first half an hour, Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne scored from the free kick spot with a classy right foot strike. He celebrated by showing Maradona’s shirt to the cameras 0 – a salute from one captain to another.

Napoli took more and more courage and poor Giallorossi goalkeeper Antonio Mirante was left alone against the whole Azzurri squad. Goals from Fabian Ruiz, Dries Mertens and Matteo Politano’s goals got the job done for Napoli and made Roma taste one of their heaviest defeats in the Derby del Sole.

Perhaps it could hot have been any different though, as when Insigne drove the ball into the back of the net or Politano dashed alone across the pitch, one could really feel that the Maradona spirit was present in the air.

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