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Napoli 2-0 PAOK: A touching tribute and a decent warmup

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Two good goals bookended a typically dull preseason match, but Napoli were clearly the better team today and look ready for the bigger challenges that await.

Marco Luzzani

The matchday started with a touching and poignant tribute. The Napoli squad was lead out on to the pitch for a fan presentation by the mother of Ciro Esposito, the fan slain as a result of the violence that preceded the Coppa Italia final. Antonella Esposito had some poignant words for the gathered partenopei faithful:

"Ciro is the example of genuine football fans and represents all the supporters in Italy.

"I thank you for being here and also Aurelio De Laurentiis for putting the ticket sales from tonight’s game towards a project we will build in the Scampia district, one Ciro loved and that represents Neapolitans.

"People try to throw mud at us, but we will become an example to all of Italy. I hope this is the first step in a long-running project, starting from schools, to ensure what happened to Ciro must never happen again.

"You live for football, you cannot die for it. Those who forget his name just kill him all over again."

-Translated quote source: Football Italia

The news of a safe haven project in Scampia, one of the poorest city districts in Italy, is fantastic to hear, and it's good to know that it's being supported by the club. Her address, warmly welcomed and cheered by the fans was followed by an equally impassioned speech from Aurelio De Laurentiis:

"Ciro’s mother had this idea of creating a movement in Scampia that can be helpful, in Ciro’s name, for those Neapolitans who want to separate themselves from violent situations that bring Naples and its people down in the eyes of Italians.

"We know that we are second to nobody. Enough violence, we want healthy sport, made of values that represent all Italians.

"This is why Antonella is Ciro’s mother, but also the mother of all Italians. To ensure Ciro’s name lives on in eternity, we will dedicate a section of the stands to Ciro."

If you needed more evidence that De Laurentiis and the club as a whole just get it, look no further. They want this mindless violence to stop as much as anyone, and are willing to do all they are able to draw a line in the sand and say "no more".

As for the match itself... well, to be honest, it wasn't that exciting. Callejon scored with a lovely finish moments in to the match and Josip Radosevic had a nice shot to finish off the match in added time, but for the most part Napoli lacked that final touch to cause true danger. Fortunately it's only preseason and that's not a huge cause for concern (yet), but it would have been nice to take better advantage of a shambolic PAOK defense.

On the plus side, Napoli looked much faster and ready for the season than their Greek opponents. You'd expect a fair bit of speed difference between the two sides, but there was much, much more than would normally have been expected. PAOK barely even looked like they belonged on the same pitch for much of the match.

While there was definitely a fair bit of pre-season shakiness and jitters going on, especially from players only recently back in training thanks to the World Cup, there were several standout performers. Kalidou Koulibaly in particular looked impressive, with the imposing Frenchman doing an excellent job in central defense, using his size and strength well and showing more mobility than you'd expect from a man his size.

Rafael was also impressive, making several good saves and generally looking like he's back and ready to rock. It wouldn't be surprising to see him look tentative or shaky considering he's just five and a half months in to his surgery recovery from his knee injury, but there was almost no sign of hesitation or slowness when he came out for saves or leaped to claim a ball in the air.

Jose Callejon also looked great in his half of action. There was no sulking or pouting going on, despite what the media would have you think this past week, just his usual businesslike precision and quality. After a good goal today and coming a shaky own-goal decision from a hat trick a week ago, it's safe to say that his "incident" at training last weekend is well in the past and forgotten.

On a whole, this was a pretty dang good warmup match. Two goals, complete control, several good individual performances... it's hard to ask for much more right now. The first big test will come on Wednesday when Napoli face Barcelona. That's going to be one heck of a show.