Napoli 3-0 Cremonese: Osimhen helps Serie A leaders exact Coppa Italia revenge

By Sports Desk February 12, 2023

Victor Osimhen extended his lead atop the goal charts as he helped Serie A leaders Napoli to a 3-0 win against rock-bottom Cremonese.

The Nigeria international prodded home a close-range finish in the second half to add to Khvicha Kvaratskhelia's earlier effort at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. Eljif Elmas added a late third, making sure.

For home coach Luciano Spalletti, the three points came with a side order of revenge after his side were knocked out of the Coppa Italia last month by their visitors, and they go 16 points clear for now.

But for Cremonese boss Davide Ballardini, the fight to seal top-flight survival is growing dimmer by each matchday, despite a spirited performance from his team.

Taking to the field in the Valentine's Day strip they debuted against the same opponents in their earlier cup clash, Napoli dominated matters across the first quarter.

It was little surprise when they opened the scoring in the 21st minute, with Kvaratskhelia seizing on a poor clearance to dance his way back into the box for a low finish.

Both teams fluffed further good chances, including a missed header for Osimhen, while the hosts also had a penalty appeal waved away just before the break.

Hirving Lozano went close to adding a second Napoli goal seven minutes into the second half, when he forced Marco Carnesecchi into an acrobatic save.

There was no denying Osimhen in the 65th minute, as he flicked Kim Min-jae's header over the line following a corner kick that was parried by the goalkeeper.

That gave Osimhen a 17th league goal of the season in just his 18th appearance, with his haul putting him five clear of Ademola Lookman and Lautaro Martinez in joint-second.

With a two-goal cushion, Napoli could have cruised to the finish line, but Elmas fired in with just over 10 minutes to go to ensure it would be an even more comfortable conclusion.

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  • Italy v Albania: Spalletti urges Azzurri to act like defending champions in Euro 2024 opener Italy v Albania: Spalletti urges Azzurri to act like defending champions in Euro 2024 opener

    Luciano Spalletti hopes Italy can use their title of reigning champions to their advantage when they open their Euro 2024 campaign against Albania on Saturday.

    The Azzurri secured Euro 2020 glory by upsetting England on home soil with a 3-2 win on penalties following a 1-1 draw to win their second European title.

    After Roberto Mancini's shock departure last year, Spalletti stepped into his shoes, qualifying for Euro 2024, and he is confident they have what it takes to win the tournament for the second time in a row.

    "It feels like heaven to be in situations like these," Spalletti told UEFA.com. "Matches come and go. These tournaments are really important, and this is why we need to be prepared for everything; as we say in our anthem, 'We are ready to die' for these matches.

    "In my opinion, coming into the tournament as defending champions is an advantage. But we need to understand straight away that we need to behave like defending champions. We will only see whether or not we are up to the task during the matches.

    "In a way, we are facing ourselves, not the outside world. We need to show what we are made of, to show what we have inside."

    Albania, meanwhile, are making just their second appearance at the Euros, and their first since 2016 when they were knocked out in the group stage.

    After topping a qualifying group including the Czech Republic and Poland, the Eagles have now been drawn into the 'group of death', also containing Spain and Croatia, but Sylvinho remains optimistic about their chances.

    "We do all of this together and understand what we're all after," Sylvinho told UEFA.com. "We've achieved things, we've made it to the Euros: that's some feat.

    "We've got this far, we know our size, we're improving. It's set to be a real challenge. However, we'll knuckle down to work.

    "The games will be fantastic but hard, and if we're able to overcome our opponents, we want to keep going. We're doing well, but if we can take another step forward, then even better."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Italy – Nicolo Barella

    Barella registered more assists than any other Italy player during Euro 2024 qualifying (three) and created seven more chances than any other Italian player (15). Barella also assisted two goals during Italy's victorious Euro 2020 campaign. The Azzurri will be hoping he can get fit in time to start the tournament.

    Albania – Jasir Asani

    Asani was Albania's joint-top goalscorer during Euro 2024 qualifying, scoring three times (level with Nedim Bajrami). All three of his strikes were scored from outside the box.

    MATCH PREDICTION: ITALY WIN

    This will be Italy and Albania's first encounter at a major tournament. Italy have won all four of their previous meetings with Albania (seven goals for, one against), which have all taken place since 2014.

    Italy have not conceded more than one goal in a match across their last two Euros participations, in 2016 and 2020: that is a total of six goals conceded across their last 12 matches in the competition.

    Italy's 45 matches at the Euros have produced 1.84 goals on average (52 for, 31 against) – it is the lowest ratio amongst any of the 25 teams to have taken part in 10+ matches in the competition.

    This is just Albania's second appearance at a major international tournament after Euro 2016 – their sole victory in this competition came against Romania in the final group match that year (1-0).

    Indeed, after losing their first Euro 2024 qualifier against Poland, Albania did not lose any of their next seven (W4 D3).

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Italy – 66.3%

    Draw – 19.6%

    Albania – 14.2%

  • Kane: Bayern experience aided Euro 2024 preparation Kane: Bayern experience aided Euro 2024 preparation

    Harry Kane believes the experience he gained playing for Bayern Munich last season has prepared him for Euro 2024 in Germany.

    Kane made the move to Bayern from Tottenham in August last year, becoming the most expensive Bundesliga signing in history.

    He enjoyed an impressive maiden season in the German top-flight, scoring 44 goals in 45 matches across all competitions.

    Kane acknowledged how his time at Bayern has improved his game and given him valuable experience going into the tournament.

    "It's been an incredible experience," Kane told UEFA.com.

    "I think playing for a club like Bayern Munich can only improve you and only push you to another level because you're under huge pressure to be successful in every game and I think the standard of players, and the quality of coaches, you know, it's just a really high level, and I’ve really enjoyed that.

    "And I just think playing, for me personally, it was time to play in different stadiums against different teams, and I've really enjoyed that experience.

    "Some of the atmospheres here have been some of the best I've ever played in. So, I'm loving that part and I expect the games in the Euros to be the same as well."

    Kane is set to become the first player to captain England at four major tournaments when he leads them out against Serbia on Sunday.

    As the Three Lions' all-time top-scorer with 63 goals, Kane is set to be one of their key men once more, but he believes the team have earned the right to be labelled as one of the favourites.

    "Being England captain and leading the boys out is probably the highest privilege I can have as a player, and I'll never take that for granted.

    "That feeling is truly one of a kind. It's an honour to do it for a fourth time. We've had a semi-final, a final and a quarter-final, so I'm hoping we go to the very end and go on and win.

    "I think this squad is one of the best, if not the best, we've had, going on form and the domestic seasons a lot of us have had.

    "I hope that the guys can lean on me and ask me questions, and if I can help them get through anything, then great. But we have such a good togetherness, we're always talking or having dinner together and there's always conversations being had, so that helps us."

    After their opening fixture, England will play Denmark and Slovenia in their other group games.

  • The Numbers Game: Spain face Croatia to kickstart Euro 2024 'group of death' The Numbers Game: Spain face Croatia to kickstart Euro 2024 'group of death'

    No tournament is complete without a 'group of death'. 

    Euro 2024 may have two, with France and the Netherlands looking to fend off a challenge from Austria in Group D, while heavyweights Spain, Croatia and Italy battle it out in Group B.

    It's Spain and Croatia who get the latter pool under way on Saturday, facing off in a huge tussle at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

    La Roja are the only team to win back-to-back editions of the Euros, achieving that feat in 2008 and 2012, yet they have only won two knockout ties across five major tournaments since that latter triumph.

    Luis de la Fuente's team did, however, win the 2022-23 edition of the Nations League, overcoming Croatia on penalties in the final. Spain also memorably eliminated Zlatko Dalic's team from Euro 2020, winning an eight-goal thriller in the last 16.

    Spain may have previous against Croatia, but few will be writing Dalic's team off following their third-place finish at the 2022 World Cup, at which an ageing but supremely talented side used all their big-game know-how to eliminate Brazil.  

    The result of Saturday's game could go a long way to deciding both teams' fates in a group that could easily see a giant fall. Here, we use Opta data to preview the game.

    What's expected?

    The Opta supercomputer makes Spain favourites for this one, but La Roja's win percentage of 50 per cent suggests the outcome is far from a foregone conclusion.

    Croatia were victorious in 24 per cent of match simulations conducted by the supercomputer, with 26 per cent ending level and potentially handing the initiative in the group to Italy.

    There will certainly be plenty of familiarity between these two sides. Indeed, Spain and Croatia are facing each other at a fourth successive edition of the Euros.

    That has only previously occurred on one occasion, when Spain and Italy met in four straight editions between 2008 and 2020. They will, of course, do battle at a fifth successive tournament when they square off in Gelsenkirchen on June 20.

    La Roja have won two of their previous three encounters with Croatia (5-3 at Euro 2020, 1-0 at Euro 2012), while they were beaten 2-1 at Euro 2016.

    If recent history is anything to go by, an entertaining affair could be in the offing. 

    Three of the last five meetings between Spain and Croatia have contained at least five goals, and the most recent – a 5-3 extra-time win for La Roja three years ago – is the second-highest scoring game in Euros history, after France 4-5 Yugoslavia in 1960.

    The supercomputer makes Spain Group B favourites with a 47.3 per cent chance of finishing top, to Croatia's 18 per cent, Italy's 29 per cent and Albania's 5.6 per cent.

    With four third-place finishers reaching the last 16, La Roja (89.1 per cent), Italy (80.3 per cent) and Croatia (67.8 per cent) are all expected to progress.

    Can Spain add punch to possession play?

    At Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup, Spain won plenty of admirers for their patient, possession-based style, with Gavi and Pedri hailed as generational talents.

    However, their approach did not win them enough matches. La Roja scraped past Switzerland on penalties at Euro 2020 before going out to Italy on spot-kicks, while a bold rearguard action from Morocco dumped them out in the first knockout round in Qatar. Before that, a shock defeat to Japan almost sent them out in the group stage.

    Their patient approach is nothing new. Spain have had more possession than their opponents in each of their last 136 competitive games, last seeing less of the ball when they beat Germany with 46 per cent of the play in the Euro 2008 final.

    They have also attempted 1,000 or more passes in four separate World Cup matches but only won one of those, beating Costa Rica 7-0 in Qatar.

    Their last 50 Euros goals have all been scored from inside the area, with their last strike from outside the box coming via Real Madrid great Raul, against Slovenia in 2000's group stage.

    De la Fuente will not stray too far from Spain's identity, despite Gavi missing the tournament due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

    The key to their success will be adding punch to their patient build-up play, and wide duo Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams could hold the key in that regard.  

    Williams (second, 191) and Yamal (fourth, 141) both ranked among the top four players for dribbles attempted in LaLiga last season, also ranking third and fifth respectively for carries ending in a take-on (Williams 97, Yamal 82).

    Athletic Bilbao's Williams has six goal involvements (two goals, four assists) in 13 senior appearances for Spain, while Yamal will become the youngest player in Euros history as long as he gets an outing before the final, which is one day after his 17th birthday. Few nations boast a pair of wingers as exciting as the Roja duo.

    Tournament specialists set up to surprise

    As is the case with Spain, control has long been the name of the game for Croatia, yet many would argue they do it with a level of savviness that deserted La Roja long ago.

    At the 2022 World Cup, only Spain (135) recorded more sequences of 10 or more passes than Croatia, with Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic pulling the strings in midfield. 

    Brozovic (509) and Modric (484), as well as centre-back Josko Gvardiol (505), ranked among the six players to play the most passes in Qatar, with Rodri out in front with 676 despite only playing four matches.

    It was not everyone's cup of tea as Croatia relied on the penalty shoot-out heroics of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic in their two knockout triumphs over Japan and Brazil.

    Despite playing the full seven games, they only ranked seventh in the tournament for expected goals, their 7.05 xG some five fewer than Brazil, who managed 12.08 xG in five games.

    But it was not simply a case of Croatia playing keep-ball until they could show their nerve from the spot. Dalic's team led everyone at the tournament for high turnovers (59), shots from high turnovers (10) and pressed sequences (109).

    Andrej Kramaric, Lovro Majer and Ante Budimir are all comfortable doing the dirty work up top, and the latter was on target as Croatia scored an impressive friendly win over Portugal on Saturday – admittedly with Cristiano Ronaldo rested.

    Difficult to beat and comfortable in transition and in possession, Croatia deserve their reputation as tournament specialists. Spain will underestimate them at their peril.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH 

    Spain – Alvaro Morata

    Missed opportunities have been a theme for Spain at recent tournaments. At Euro 2020, Morata missed more big chances (six) than any other player and also fluffed his lines as La Roja were beaten on penalties by Italy in the last four.

    However, after enjoying the joint-most prolific campaign of his career in Europe's top five leagues, scoring 15 goals for Atletico Madrid in LaLiga, Morata will be trusted to shoulder the goalscoring burden again.

     

    He ended a five-match goal drought for his country as Northern Ireland were routed 5-1 in a warm-up friendly last week, and though he has his detractors, he has tournament pedigree.

    Only Ronaldo (eight) and Antoine Griezmann (seven) have scored more goals than Morata's six across the last two editions of the Euros.

    Croatia – Luka Modric

    Modric personifies Croatia's measured approach, and despite playing a reduced role for Real Madrid in 2023-24, he will be their key man again at this tournament.

    The 38-year-old only started 18 games in LaLiga last term, yet he ranked ninth in the league for total passes in the opposition half, with 923.

    Among players with at least 15 starts, he ranked fourth for chances created per 90 minutes (2.94), joint-fourth for open-play chances created (2.14) and seventh for passes into the final third (10.9).

    Modric versus Rodri and Pedri could be the most watchable midfield battle of the group stage.

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