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Napoli 5, Hellas Verona 1: They Did It For The Kids

Napoli signed off this season with style, from a start-to-finish beatdown of Hellas Verona.

I love this team so much.
I love this team so much.
Giuseppe Bellini

ssc napoli blog sbn

Napoli 5 Callejon 5', Zapata 13'; 25'; Mertens 62', 77'
Hellas Verona 1 Iturbe 66'

With a mostly-empty Stadio San Paolo, it would have been understandable if the final day atmosphere was lacking. What the children in attendance lacked in size or numbers, however, they more than made up for in enthusiasm, giving the squad a raucous welcome as they emerged from the tunnel and lined up for one last time before the start of the match.

That energy was carried over in the early stages of the match. Hellas had everything to play for and came out strong, but Napoli tore them apart on a fifth-minute counter attack that ended with Dries Mertens splitting their defense with a perfect through-ball to Jose Callejon that the Spaniard finished without a second thought. It was an absurdly easy goal, and was a nice little "screw you" from Callejon to Vicente del Bosque after being left out of the Spain squad for the World Cup.

That goal seemed to take the wind out of Hellas' sails, and it wouldn't be long before Napoli found another goal. Again firing on the counter, Mertens found Duvan Zapata in space at the top of the box. The big Colombian gathered the ball, turned, and fired a bullet across his body and across the face of the goal to put Napoli up 2-0. The angle and power of the shot made it pretty much unsaveable, and was a truly impressive effort from Zapata, who just impresses more and more as he makes more starts.

He wasn't done, either. Twelve minutes later, Mertens served up a free kick that Callejon got to off the far post. He lobbed in a chip across goal, and Zapata rose up to nod it in. How Napoli's biggest player was unmarked at the post like that is beyond me, but it worked, and ended any remote dreams Hellas Verona still had of making the Europa League. 

From there, Napoli took their foot off the gas a bit, but never so much as to take themselves out of control of the match. The only real clear-cut change Hellas had in the first half was off a free kick. Luca Toni, chasing the Serie A goalscoring title with Ciro Immobile out of action today, actually put the ball past Toni Doblas, but the goal was ruled out as Toni was well offside when the free kick was struck. Otherwise, Napoli just kind of batted at Hellas like a cat with a wounded mouse. They couldn't quite find a fourth goal, but the run of play definitely made it feel like one was coming.

The second half started with Callejon being withdrawn after a successful first half in order to give Josip Radosevic a nice long runout on the season's last day. That lead to a brief spell with Blerim Dzemaili as the main playmaker behind the striker, but that didn't work out too well. Just before the hour mark, Rafa hauled Dzei off and put on Camoli Zuniga for one last runout, moving Mertens back behind the striker in a move that quickly paid off.

Just two minutes later, Jorginho put in a gorgeous throughball in to the box that Zapata misread, leaving it to fall at the feet of Michelangelo Albertazzi, who had just come in to the match a few minutes before. However, a late run from Zuniga pulled away a Verona defender, and Albertazzi's back pass went in to empty space instead of to his feet. That left the ball sitting in no-man's land for Mertens to pounce on, and he made no mistakes before putting Napoli up by four.

Verona would close the gap back to three shortly afterwards. A foul at the edge of the box by Radosevic set up Juan Iturbe in a good position on his free kick. He banged it off Zuniga's edge of the wall, but the deflection was kind and carried the ball away from Doblas and in to the back of the net. It was awkward, but it kept Verona from total embarrassment. 

Well, for a few minutes anyways.

Lorenzo Insigne got loose on the left, and drove in a low cross to Mertens just outside the top of the box. Mertens actually slipped and fell while he was shooting, but hit the ball with such power that it didn't matter, and Napoli had a fifth goal for the second week running. Christian Maggio nearly added a sixth five minutes later, trying to strike on a Zapata rebound, but Nicolas was able to get back up and across just in time to get his hand on the ball to deny Maggio.

That would be the last big moment of the match. Napoli pushed some more for another goal, but couldn't quite get the last touch they needed to capitalize on their chances. Still, a 5-1 scoreline was an excellent way to finish out the season, especially with well-deserved braces for Zapata and Mertens. Doing it in front of 10,000 exuberantly screaming kids just made it all the nicer.

Home Lineup: Doblas; Maggio, Henrique, Britos, Ghoulam; Dzemaili (Zuniga 59'), Jorginho (Lasicki 79'); Mertens, Callejòn (Radosevic 46'), Insigne; Duvan

Away Lineup: Nicolas; Cacciatore (Taleb 55'), Marques (Rabusic 69'), Maietta, Agostini (Albertazzi 58'); Sala, Donadel, Hallfredsson; Iturbe, Toni, Marquinho