Osimhen returns for Napoli ahead of Champions League game


Victor Osimhen’s return from injury and a peace pact between protesting fans meant more for Napoli than the result in a 0-0 draw with relegation-threatened Hellas Verona in Serie A on Saturday.

Osimhen, who leads Serie A with 21 goals in 24 matches, had missed Napoli’s previous three games with an injured abductor muscle in his left leg but came on in the second half and immediately lifted the Partenopei attack by hitting the crossbar.

Napoli sorely missed Osimhen in a 1-0 loss to AC Milan in the opening leg of the Champions League quarterfinals and now he will be expected to start the second leg on Tuesday.

Earlier, Milan was also held to a draw in a 1-1 result at Bologna.

The other significant bit of news occurred before kickoff, when Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis met with hard-core “ultra” fans, who had been protesting over high ticket prices and new rules over bringing flags and banners inside the stadium.

After the nearly two-hour meeting inside the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, De Laurentiis tweeted a photo of himself smiling surrounded by 15 “ultra” leaders, with a message in Italian that translated as “We are Napoli. President and fans united to win!”

When Napoli was routed 4-0 by Milan at the start of the month for its heaviest defeat of the season — Osimhen missed that game, too — the “ultras” remained silent in protest and even fought with other Napoli fans who were cheering the team on.

After Napoli was again beaten by Milan at the San Siro, coach Luciano Spalletti said that he would abandon the return leg on Tuesday if fans don’t support the team.

And De Laurentiis was recently provided with a security detail to protect him from possible fan attacks.

But after the pre-match meeting on Saturday, the “ultras” chanted loudly throughout the match.

The biggest cheers were reserved for Osimhen, who replaced Giacomo Raspadori at center forward in the 73rd minute.

Napoli immediately became more dangerous with Osimhen, who controlled possession inside the area and hit the bar with a half-volley from the edge of the area.

Closing in on its first Serie A title in more than three decades, runaway leader Napoli had its lead trimmed to 14 points ahead of second-place Lazio, which won 3-0 at Spezia on Friday.

Verona remained third from the bottom and in the drop zone.

Milan reserves

Capable of beating Napoli twice this month, Milan hasn’t beaten anyone else lately.

Playing mostly reserves ahead of the second leg at Napoli, the Rossoneri were held 1-1 at Bologna to remain fourth and at risk of not qualifying for the Champions League next season.

Nicola Sansone scored for Bologna from close range just 33 seconds in and Tommaso Pobega equalized for Milan before the break with a long-range effort that ricocheted in off the left post.

Excluding its two victories over Napoli, Milan is winless in its six other matches since February.

Apart from goalkeeper Mike Maignan, Milan coach Stefano Pioli changed his entire starting lineup from the win over Napoli three days ago.

Milan moved level on points with third-place Roma, which hosts Udinese on Sunday, and two points ahead of Inter Milan, which was hosting Monza later with a chance to leapfrog its city rival.

Extending its unbeaten run to five matches, Bologna remained eighth but moved within four points of sixth-place Atalanta and Italy’s Conference League spot.


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