Gattuso puts Napoli ‘on the path to victory against Barcelona’

Napoli’s Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku in action during their match in Naples, Italy. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 08 August 2020

Gattuso puts Napoli ‘on the path to victory against Barcelona’

  • We certainly want to write an important page in our history, says club’s head coach

MILAN, Italy: Gennaro Gattuso’s reign as Napoli coach may have started amid turmoil but the former Italy international has put the Serie A club on the path toward a potential Champions League triumph against Barcelona.

The southern Italians head for the Camp Nou on Saturday with a first ever Champions League quarter-final berth beckoning.

“We certainly want to write an important page in our history,” said Gattuso of a feat which not even Argentine legend Diego Maradona managed to achieve with the club.

Both sides are 1-1 after the last 16, first leg in the San Paulo Stadium in February.

But Lionel Messi’s Spaniards have not been beaten at home in the Champions League in seven years as they target a 13th consecutive quarterfinal berth.

Barcelona finished second in La Liga while Napoli were seventh in Serie A, but having secured a Europa League spot thanks to their Italian Cup victory.

Gattuso admitted his “head was already on Barcelona” as his side wrapped up their league season with a 3-1 win over Lazio last weekend.

“We will play on a high-level stage and we want to be worthy of it,” he said.

“We know that if we want to compete against Barcelona we will have to take risks.”

The big question will be how to stop six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, a problem which former AC Milan midfielder Gattuso would have happily tackled as a player.

“I can mark Messi only in my dreams, or on my son’s PlayStation,” said the 42-year-old former Glasgow Rangers player, who won two Champions League titles with AC Milan.

“We are ready to face Barcelona. We have our style, we are prepared. But they have one player named Messi who can leave 10 players behind.”

As a player, Gattuso had a fiery reputation, with a dogged never-say-die attitude.

In Naples, more than rage he has brought calm to a locker room traumatized after a disastrous first half of the season under Carlo Ancelotti, his former coach in Milan.

This despite sparse coaching credentials, coming through Sion, Palermo, OFI Crete, Pisa and his beloved Milan before arriving in Naples. He was harshly judged after his 18 months at AC Milan despite their fifth-place finish last season, missing out on the Champions League by one point.

But his successor Marco Giampaolo was sacked after just seven matches.

“It’s a profession that cannot be learned from books but by getting knocked in the teeth. I have had a few failures and will have many more,” said Gattuso.

Since the end of January, and after a difficult start to life in Naples with the team plunging to 13th position and Gattuso facing ridicule, the team have been reborn.

He has given confidence back to players including Lorenzo Insigne, Nikola Maksimovic and Kalidou Koulibaly.

His reputation as a 2006 World Cup star and two-time Champions League and Serie A winner holds weight in the locker room, along with his straight talking style, and work ethic.

“(Gattuso) Rino is the most respected coach in the dressing room since I have been here,” said Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis.

Gattuso’s first trophy came in the Italian Cup just days after the death of his younger sister.

Napoli won a dramatic penalty shootout against Juventus in Rome for their first trophy in six years — a feat not achieved under Gattuso’s predecessors Maurizio Sarri and Ancelotti.


Rays rally with walkoff stunner to level World Series against Dodgers

Updated 26 October 2020

Rays rally with walkoff stunner to level World Series against Dodgers

ARLINGTON, United States: Brett Phillips’s single scored two runs and the Tampa Bay Rays walked off with a stunning 8-7 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday that knotted the World Series at two games apiece.
The Rays became the first team in post-season history to homer in four straight innings, but they trailed 7-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
With two out and two on, Phillips — who entered the game in the eighth as a pinch runner — was down to his last strike in the ninth when he singled to right center field off Dodgers closing pitcher Kenley Jansen and Kevin Kiermaier scored from second base.
Randy Arozarena racing from first, rounded third after the ball bounced off the glove of Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor.
Arozarena tripped between third and home and looked done for, but Dodgers catcher Will Smith bobbled the throw to the plate and Arozarena was able to scramble forward and throw himself headfirst across the plate in time.
“Golly, what a special moment,” said Phillips, who last got a hit in the Rays’ 58th game of the regular season on September 25.
“I am having a hard time putting my emotions into words,” Phillips said. “Baseball is fun.”
Kiermaier called the ending — which sent the Rays into a frenzy of celebration on Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, “truly incredible.”
Arozarena notched a record-breaking ninth home run of the post-season. Kiermaier, Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Lowe also homered for the Rays, who are seeking the first World Series title in franchise history.
The Dodgers, back in the World Series for a third time in four years after disappointments in 2017 and 2018, are seeking their seventh title — but a first since 1988.
“This is certainly a tough one,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They were the best team all year in the American League.
“They are not going to give anything away. We’ve got to regroup and get ready for tomorrow.”
The spectacular ending, capped a tense back-and-forth battle with a World Series record eight straight half-innings with a run scored.
Justin Turner and Corey Seager homered for the Dodgers. Seager’s was his eighth of the playoffs, temporarily tying the single post-season record until Arozarena notched his ninth in the fourth frame.
For the second game in a row Turner got things rolling with a solo homer in the first inning.
Seager added a solo shot in the top of the third that put the Dodgers up 2-0, but Arozarena pulled back a run in the bottom of the fourth with a lead-off blast to right centerfield off a 95 mph fastball from Julio Urias.
Los Angeles stretched the lead to 3-1 in the fifth when Seager singled off Rays relief pitcher Pete Fairbanks and reached second on a wild pitch. With two outs in the inning Max Muncy reached first on a sharp line drive to right field that scored Seager.
The Rays responded with a home run from Renfroe to cut the margin to one run in the bottom of the fifth.
The Dodgers pushed the lead back to two in the top of the sixth when Enrique Hernandez fired a double down the left field line that scored two.
But Lowe — the two-homer hero of the Rays’ game-two victory — put the Rays in front for the first time with a three-run blast off Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez in the bottom of the sixth.
In the seventh, Dodgers pinch-hitter Joc Pederson came up with the bases loaded and two out and delivered a two-run single that put Los Angeles back in front.
All seven Dodgers runs came with two outs — continuing a trend for them this series.
The Rays however, wouldn’t be denied, Kiermaier’s homer off Baez knotting the score at 6-6.
“We have no quit,” Kiermaier said. “We have been doing that all year. We’ve been the comeback kids. To do it on the big stage makes it that much sweeter.”