COMMENT: The little forward had a big night in Rome, guiding the Azzurri to Coppa Italia glory with an excellent brace and a great display overall
When it eventually got started, it was all about Lorenzo Insigne. The shortest man on the pitch had the biggest of big game mentalities as Napoli overcame pre-match consternation and recriminations to beat Fiorentina and clinch the Coppa Italia.
Many of the memories of the Partenopei’s 3-1 win will centre around the issues which caused a 45-minute delay to the kick-off. Three Napoli fans ended up in hospital with gunshot wounds following incidents in Rome during Saturday afternoon.
|MATCH FACTS | Fiorentina 1-3 Napoli|
With varying reports filtering around the stadium, Neapolitan ultras summoned skipper Marek Hamsik to the front of the Curva Nord and seemingly asked for clarification as to the nature of the clashes and resulting injuries. Without getting what they wanted, they were unwilling to let the game take place without incident.
What followed was deeply embarrassing for the Italian game. First there were scenes of complete disorganisation as some of the most esteemed dignitaries in the country looked on in disbelief. Then there were various groups seen addressing the collection of supporters who demanded reassurances.
When they were eventually satisfied, there followed a final which was well worth the wait.
The pace at which the game began belied the lack of preparation in the hour immediately before the eventual kick-off, with the players responding superbly to the earlier problems to serve up a feast of a first half. And Insigne in particular demonstrated a cool head to take two early goals from which Fiorentina would never recover.
The diminutive Italian set the game alight inside 11 minutes, supplying a pinpoint finish to a sweeping counter by curling the ball past Neto and off the far post. Just six minutes later he’d added a second, arriving at the far post to fire in a shot which was deflected past the Brazilian goalkeeper.
The Viola hit back with a magnificent volley by Juan Vargas and might have levelled just before half-time but for an offside flag. But they had their best chances during a more subdued second half, but Josip Ilicic somehow conspired to curl a most magnificent opportunity wide of the back post when it seemed easier to score.
Had the Slovenian equalised, Vincenzo Montella’s men would surely have been favourites to win the game in extra time, with Napoli having been reduced to 10 men after the sending-off of Gokhan Inler. As it turned out, the Campania outfit snatched a late third when Dries Mertens finished from Jose Callejon’s pass.
It was the right result given the balance of the game, and Rafa Benitez was rewarded for his superior tactical approach with an 11th major trophy as a coach.
But the Spaniard will give special thanks to Insigne. While he might not have been able to lead Napoli to a sustained title challenge this term, the 22-year-old has taken to some of the sport’s biggest platforms with relish.
His debut Champions League campaign came not as an overwhelming experience but a magnificent opportunity. And on Saturday he appeared in a first major final after the most difficult of build-ups, yet responded like a seasoned veteran.
While everybody hopes Italy can eventually see off the kind of issues which overshadowed the start of the evening, Insigne will hopefully remain at heart of Calcio’s biggest nights for years to come.