Napoli clinch first Serie A title in 33 years after draw with Udinese

Napoli won their first Italian Serie A title in 33 years, clinching the Scudetto on Thursday with a 1-1 draw at Udinese.

Needing only a draw to take an unassailable 16-point lead with five games remaining, Serie A’s top scorer, Victor Osimhen, equalised for Napoli in the 52nd minute to spark wild celebrations throughout Naples, inside the stadium in Udine and beyond.

The title is Napoli’s third in Italy’s top division and their first since the legendary Argentine player Diego Maradona led them to championships in 1987 and 1990. Napoli’s home stadium was renamed in Maradona’s honour following his death in November 2020.

Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said the impact of Maradona was “felt in this success.”

“Napoli, this is for you,” he added. “There are people here who will be able to get through difficult moments in their lives because they remember this moment. These people deserve all the joy.”

Napoli could have sealed the title at home on Sunday but conceded a late equaliser to Salernitana to extend the wait four more days. They went into Thursday’s game knowing a point would be enough, even after nearest challengers Lazio beat Sassuolo a day earlier.

Besides the 11,000 Napoli fans inside and 5,000 more outside the stadium in Udine in northern Italy, a capacity crowd of more than 50,000 watched the match on jumbo screens at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in Naples.

Napoli clinch first Serie A title in 33 years after draw with Udinese

Victor Osimhen scored his 22nd Serie A goal of the season to clinch the title for Napoli. MB Media/Getty Images

In Udine, celebrating fans invaded the field at the final whistle, while in Naples there were fireworks and delirium.

“You always told me, ‘We want to win,’ and now we’ve won. We’ve won all together,” Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis told the crowd at the Naples stadium before he embraced Naples Mayor Gaetano Manfredi.

De Laurentiis took over the club in 2004 when Napoli was declared bankrupt, restarting in the third division.

“This is the coronation of a dream that’s been going on for 33 years,” De Laurentiis added. “It’s been a long process.”

It’s the first time a club south of Italy’s traditional soccer capitals of Milan and Turin has won the league since Roma claimed the title in 2001.

Napoli matched the record of clinching with five rounds to spare, shared with Torino (1947-48), Fiorentina (1955-56), Inter Milan (2006-07) and Juventus (2018-19).

For weeks, Napoli’s march to the title had seemed inevitable as they built a massive lead over their rivals.

Spalletti’s side went unbeaten through the first 15 games of the campaign, including an 11-match winning streak. After their first loss, away at Inter, Napoli immediately went on an eight-game winning run to go 18 points clear at the top and put a stranglehold on the Scudetto.

The team has been led by Osimhen, who fittingly secured the title Thursday with his 22nd goal of the campaign. During his goal celebration, Osimhen broke his face mask and the Nigeria forward had to play without it for a few minutes while it was repaired by Napoli staff members on the sideline.

“I’m happy for all Napoli fans worldwide,” Osimhen said. “No one deserves the Scudetto more than Neapolitans — more than us.

“I don’t care who scored, I just wanted to get the Scudetto.”

It was Osimhen’s 46th of his Serie A career, matching former AC Milan standout and current Liberia President George Weah as the top African scorers in Italy.

Another standout performer has been winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who arrived as an unheralded signing from Georgia last summer and became a sensation, scoring 12 league goals and adding 10 assists.

Normally superstitious about mentioning the word “Scudetto,” Neapolitans have been festooning the city with banners, flags and life-size replicas of Napoli players as they gear up for a party that has been on hold for several weeks.

The wait was extended after a tough month in April, when Napoli managed only two wins in seven games in all competitions and crashed out of the Champions League.

Napoli, though, wasn’t even considered a title contender before the season because of the departures of former captain Lorenzo Insigne, club record scorer Dries Mertens and defensive stalwart Kalidou Koulibaly.

The title also gives Napoli coach Spalletti the one honor he has coveted most after previously managing Roma and Inter and winning two Russian league championships with Zenit St. Petersburg.