Near the end of a mind-meltingly fantastic performance in goal in the first half yesterday, goalkeeper Rafael Cabral went down in a heap clutching his knee in obvious pain. Despite the lengthy protestations of the match commentators, who were convinced beyond reason that Rafael was faking his injury, the referee whistled play dead and brought the trainers on to the pitch. While Rafael would finish the last few minutes of the half, it was clear watching him move that something wasn't right, and he was subbed off at halftime.
Seeing such a scintillating performance cut short put fear in to a lot of Napoli fans. Now that fear has been justified: Rafael has been diagnosed with a torn ACL, and will have to have surgery soon. That means he'll be out for the rest of the season and in to next season as well. While no official timeline has been established yet, just getting back to full training usually takes at least six months, and building proper fitness and confidence in the knee can take several more months on top of that.
This will put Napoli in to a tough spot. With Pepe Reina frequently hurt of late and not in the best of form, Rafael was becoming more and more important as the season wore on, especially with the partenopei facing a fair bit of fixture congestion down the stretch if they advance much farther in the Europa League. Now their only backup in the squad is Roberto Colombo, which... yikes. There's an outside chance Napoli might be able to recall Mariano Andujar from his loan with Catania; he was purchased by the club in January and immediately loaned back as it was assumed he wouldn't be needed in Naples until next year, but obviously that need has changed.
Either way, let's hope Reina can stay healthy and get back to his early season form, quickly. Let's also wish Rafael the best in his recovery. It was looking as though he was on a trajectory to develop in to a top-class 'keeper, and it will be a sad thing if this derails him from that path.
Maybe now those ITV announcers will believe he was actually hurt.