Spalletti refutes Guardiola 'games' as Napoli and Man City chase Champions League success

By Sports Desk March 16, 2023

Luciano Spalletti has pushed back on Pep Guardiola's claim Napoli are the best team in Europe right now, claiming the comments are "a game to build us up, so they can knock us down".

The Partenopei booked their first appearance in the Champions League quarter-finals after a comfortable 3-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the last-16 second leg.

With an 18-point lead at the summit of Serie A to boot, Spalletti's side seem primed for silverware regardless, and City boss Guardiola suggested they are the team to beat.

Spalletti, however, feels the Catalan coach is only saying as much in order to take the advantage in the mental tussle ahead of Friday's last-eight draw, with both teams in the mix to meet.

"I don't feel proud, I don't feel anything," he told Amazon Prime Italia. "I know this game that everyone does to put pressure on the others.

"Are we putting Napoli in front of Manchester City? If they can spend €900m compared to our €9m, there must be a reason. It's a game to build us up, so they can knock us down."

City booked their place in the quarter-finals with a ruthless result of their own, notching a 7-0 second leg victory over RB Leipzig on Tuesday.

Napoli meanwhile join rivals Milan and Inter in the last-eight, marking the first time three Italian teams have reached the stage since the 2005-06 campaign.

Spalletti urged supporters to enjoy the moment, but insisted his team cannot get carried away as they look to make further history in Europe this season.

"It is a great result, [and] we are going to enjoy it along with all our fans," he added. "Now it becomes fundamental that we maintain the same attitude.

"If Napoli in the entire history of this club had not reached the quarter-finals before, that means this is a great result."

Related items

  • Spalletti willing to switch things up after 'mistakes' in Spain defeat Spalletti willing to switch things up after 'mistakes' in Spain defeat

    Luciano Spalletti is aiming to get Italy back to their best against Croatia on Monday after admitting to not getting things right during their defeat to Spain.

    Spain secured top spot in Group B after their 1-0 victory over Italy on Thursday, with Riccardo Calafiori's own goal handing La Roja the win in the 55th minute.

    Despite the narrow scoreline, Italy struggled to test their counterparts in the final third, managing just four shots in the match, with Unai Simon only having to make one save.

    Spalletti had named the same starting line-up from their comeback win over Albania but used all five of his changes by the 64th minute.

    The head coach admitted even that was not soon enough for his team, but is confident Italy will bounce back on Monday.

    "Of course, after a game like that, there is the notion and the idea to change the team a little bit," Spalletti said.

    "I probably made mistakes in not mixing things up quicker in terms of the performance we produced, but I thought it would be a gamble to tweak anything because we saw everything that had been said in recent times.

    "Now that we have noticed that there is a bit of fatigue and rust in terms of results, we certainly will change things."

    Italy know that a win will confirm second place in the group, while a defeat will either knock them out immediately if Albania beat Spain or leave them waiting to see if they can go through as one of the best third-place teams.

    "There are certain matches which ultimately dictate whether it's been a great tale or a tale to forget, so the glory of your tale comes down to matches such as this," Spaelletti added.

    "Talk is cheap, you've got to go out there and walk the walk. We said things we weren't able to exhibit against Spain, we need to walk the walk and leave talk to one side."

  • Sabitzer focused on last-16 qualification after Champions League heartache Sabitzer focused on last-16 qualification after Champions League heartache

    Marcel Sabitzer insisted he will put his Champions League final defeat in the past as he prepares to help Austria reach the last-16 of Euro 2024. 

    The Borussia Dortmund midfielder played the full duration of their 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid at Wembley earlier this month. 

    Los Blancos secured their 15th success in the competition thanks to goals late in the game from Dani Carvajal and Vinicius Junior. 

    But Sabitzer played a starring role as Austria roared back from their defeat to France in their opening game of the competition, beating Poland 3-1 to bring it down to the final matchday. 

    Austria face the Netherlands in Berlin next Tuesday to conclude their Group D campaign, and know a win could see them finish top or second. 

    A draw or defeat could also leave Ralf Rangnick's side with a good chance of progressing as one of the four best third-placed teams. 

    "The possibilities then really open up," Sabitzer said.

    "I know that from the Champions League, especially this season. Once you're on a run in the knockout phase anything can happen.

    "The most important thing is to get through the group stage and into the round of 16 and then we'll see what happens next."

  • Brazil v Costa Rica: Endrick 'confident' of making Copa America impact Brazil v Costa Rica: Endrick 'confident' of making Copa America impact

    Endrick is confident he can help Brazil claim a 10th Copa America title as he prepares for his first international tournament with the Selecao Canarinho. 

    Brazil kickstart their campaign at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Monday against Costa Rica. 

    Dorival Junior's side will also face Paraguay and Colombia in Group E, hopeful of going one better this time around having lost to Argentina in the 2021 final. 

    The 17-year-old, who officially joins Real Madrid next month, has scored three goals in his last four games for Brazil but knows he will have to remain patient for his opportunity at the Copa America. 

    "Only God knows [when I will start]," Endrick said. I am very grateful to have Abel [Ferreira] as a coach, he knew when to play me.

    "Everything is up to God and Dorival Junior, the professor. He is a spectacular coach. He is doing what is best for the Brazilian team.

    "I have always been very precocious in my life and since I became a professional I have played against opponents who have always teased me, insulted me, talked about my family, my girlfriend.

    "But I got used to it quickly because I was 16. I'm calm, and I hope I can help. I think it's right, in football you have to destabilise the other player.

    "It's been like that since I arrived, so I've adapted, and I'm very confident that I can help the team."

    For Costa Rica Gustavo Alfaro, he has experience at the Copa America having guided Ecuador to the quarter-finals of the previous tournament in 2021.

    The 61-year-old also took them to the following year's World Cup, where they opened with a 2-0 win against hosts Qatar before drawing 1-1 with the Netherlands, but failed to reach the knockouts after losing 2-1 to Senegal in their final group game.

    However, Alfaro faces a different proposition with Los Ticos. Costa Rica have failed to make it beyond the group stages in each of the last two appearances; they last did so in 2004, but their recent form holds reason for optimism. 

    Costa Rica have won four of their previous six international fixtures, losing only once over that stretch (3-1 to Argentina). They have also not conceded in any of their last three competitive fixtures, winning 15 of their previous 16 encounters when scoring the opening goal.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Brazil - Vinicius Junior 

    Vinicius Junior played a starring role in Real Madrid's LaLiga and Champions League successes in 2023-24, and claiming a first international honour with his nation would surely put the 23-year-old in pole position to scoop the Ballon d'Or. 

    The Los Blancos star had 35 goal involvements (24 goals and 11 assists) in 39 appearances in all competitions for the Spanish side, his second-best campaign since his move to Madrid in 2021-22 (22 goals and 20 assists). 

     

    Costa Rica - Manfred Ugalde

    Having failed to score for his new side, Spartak Moscow, after his move from FC Twente in January, Ugalde rediscovered his goal-scoring touch at the opportune moment heading into the tournament. 

    The 22-year-old striker grabbed a goal and three assists in Costa Rica's CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers against Grenada and Saint Kitts and Nevis, and will be hoping to continue that form in Inglewood against Brazil. 

    MATCH PREDICTION: BRAZIL WIN

    Brazil and Costa Rica have faced each other twice in the Copa America, with both victories for the Brazilian team in 1997 (5-0) at the Estadio Ramon Tahuichi Aguilera and in 2004 (4-1) with Adriano scoring a hat-trick for Carlos Alberto Parreira's side. 

    The Selecao Canarinho have won 10 of their 11 meetings against their opponents, with their last defeat coming in the Panamerican Championship in March 1960 (3-0), with Brazil backed to continue their nine-game unbeaten run. 

    Costa Rica will look to continue their impressive record against CONMEBOL teams at the Copa America, having lost one of their last four matches against them (W2 D1).

    Gustavo Alfaro's side will seek to string together victories for the first time against CONMEBOL opponents in the competition, having defeated Colombia 3-2 in the 2016 edition.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Brazil - 71%

    Costa Rica - 16.1%

    Draw - 12.9%

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.