Maradona revisited: on his drugs ban, Berlusconi and ‘the suffocating love of Naples’ | Diego Maradona

In March 1991, after a game Napoli had played against Bari, Diego Maradona failed a drug test. The Italian football authorities banned him for 15 months. He fled to Buenos Aires, where the Argentinian law authorities subjected him to continual harassment and surveillance, including a short spell in jail. Maradona called those 15 months “among the most terrible of my whole life”.

In July 1992, with the ban over, Maradona was determined to “detach [himself] from Napoli”. He joined Sevilla, managed by Carlos Bilardo, who was in charge of Argentina for the 1986 and 1990 World Cups.

Just after his arrival in Sevilla, he spoke with Bruno Bernardi, a legendary journalist for the Turin daily La Stampa whom Maradona admired deeply.

Carlos Bilardo gives instructions to Diego Maradona
Carlos Bilardo coached Maradona at Sevilla after he joined in 1992. Photograph: El Grafico/Getty Images

Bernardi: Would you have returned to Naples?

Maradona: When I was desperate – against Claudia’s [Claudia Villafañe, his wife], Franchi [Marcos Franchi, his manager] and the doctor’s advice – I wanted to play again, even in Naples. I made the last attempt with the 21 conditions that concerned the man more than the money. I didn’t even owe Ferlaino [Corrado Ferlaino, the owner of Napoli] a dollar because with the new contract I had already played three seasons. Rather, it was Napoli that owed me $7m, a figure that also includes the advance for 1992–93. A little goodwill would have been enough. When Careca, Crippa and De Napoli [teammates at Napoli] phoned me, they touched the depths of my heart. In Naples I have many friends, inside and outside of football. And it’s only Ferlaino’s fault if I’m at Sevilla.

Bernardi: Ferlaino wished for you a future as an executive.

Maradona: If I ever become one, I will not collaborate with Ferlaino. He and I are too different.

Bernardi: Naples has given you so much but what did it take away from you?

Maradona: Naples loved me in a suffocating way, without ever a moment of peace to let me breathe. I hoped, and they promised me, that after two or three years it would change, but instead the pressure increased. I don’t blame the Neapolitans. I seized on the promise Ferlaino made me that if we won the Uefa Cup he would release me a season early. He took it back. And that was when I freaked out.

Bernardi: Juventus would have done anything for you that season. Gianni Agnelli [Juventus’s owner] let it be understood, and [the Juventus executive] Giampiero Boniperti said you are the only great champion who hasn’t worn the black and white jersey. You were almost on the verge of coming to Turin: what would have changed in Maradona’s history if you had signed that contract?

Diego Maradona with Juventus player Antonio Cabrini
Maradona was close to completing his ‘great dream’ of joining Juventus during his career. Photograph: Juventus FC/Archive/Getty Images

Maradona: Juve was my great dream and I would have been the player who keeps talking and screaming on the pitch, dragging his teammates, the type of player missing since the days of Roberto Bettega and Marco Tardelli, when Juve won everything. In Turin I would have collected titles, I would still be in a city where you can walk quietly down Via Roma without being harassed, like when I was in Italy those first few months, yet in Naples I couldn’t leave the hotel. Roberto Baggio is a champion, perhaps the only one along with Claudio Caniggia, who can become my heir, but he must suffer as he is currently doing for a couple of more years to gain experience and maturity. Juve is an extraordinary club and you have to take your hat off to the Avvocato [Agnelli]. He is too strong, miles away from [Milan’s owner Silvio] Berlusconi.

Bernardi: Now it is Milan that dominates and allows itself the luxury of sending Ruud Gullit to the stands.

Maradona: Absurd. I have a lot of anger towards Berlusconi: he is an egoist who has six foreigners not so much for strengthening Milan, but to weaken the competition. He is killing football. I understand the power of what has hurt me so much but Gullit doesn’t deserve a similar treatment. And in addition to Ruud, the public is penalised by being deprived of seeing an ace like the Dutchman who brings them so much joy. If he is not needed, they should give him to Sevilla.

Bernardi: In Milan, Lentini’s market price [For a brief period, Gianluigi Lentini was the world’s most expensive player, moving from Torino to AC Milan for 18.5bn Italian lira] dwarfs the one paid by Napoli to sign you from Barcelona eight years ago. Is that right?

Maradona: It is a consequence of the demands that [Lentini’s club] Torino made. Lentini already seemed to belong to Juve and Berlusconi took him away with a contract that could not be turned down. I gather Lentini earns even more than I do. He is certainly a great forward but he’s not a phenomenon.

Bernardi: So is Milan unassailable?

Maradona: They can win the Scudetto again. Juve remain Milan’s nemesis, however, and they cannot afford to think of the future by acquiring young players; it must think about winning immediately and strengthening themselves with players full of personality. To be clear, the club needs a Carlo Ancelotti type who dominates the pitch and puts psychological pressure on his teammates and on his opponents. The other teams are not ready to compete with Milan. Not Inter, which lacks a Lothar Matthäus from their best days to hope to win the Uefa Cup. Not Napoli: Ferlaino no longer wants to make it a winning team. Neither Sampdoria that lost Gianluca Vialli. Not the Roma of my friend Caniggia. Not Toro that has a good squad, but doesn’t need the scudetto.

Bernardi: Do you miss our Serie A?

Maradona: Very much. But now I’m in Spain. I am thinking about Sevilla’s game tomorrow against Matthäus’s Bayern: you will see a great Maradona. I have also invited King Juan Carlos. And I’m thinking about my debut in La Liga on 7 October.

Diego Maradona - The Last Interview book cover
Diego Maradona – The Last Interview book cover

Bernardi: Are you not aiming for USA 94?

Maradona: It’s early, and I have so many doubts. First, I have to regain my place in the national team for the World Cup which would be my last and which could be distorted by differences in climate and time zones. At Italia 90 we went to the final because [Italy coach Azeglio] Vicini didn’t play Pietro Vierchowod: if he had played in defence, we would never have drawn [and reached the final on penalties]. And I pray to God that Sacchi’s Azzurri do not reach the heights of Milan, otherwise they will become the strongest and there will be nothing for anyone.

This is an edited extract from an interview which was first published in La Stampa in September 1992. It appears in Diego Maradona: The Last Interview & Other Conversations, available now from Melville House. Translation by Allegra Donn

Milan late show keeps them in distant contact with Napoli’s ‘Martians’ | Serie A

It was the 91st minute at San Siro when Milan scored the goal that might have rescued the Serie A title race. Technically the Fiorentina defender Nicola Milenkovic scored it for them – deflecting Aster Vranckx’s cross into his own net – but few were dwelling on the fine details as Zombie Nation’s Kernkraft 400, a German dance track older than some players on the pitch, blared out across the public address.

A crowd of 73,000 danced and sighed with relief. Milenkovic’s own goal secured a 2-1 win and kept Milan ‘only’ eight points behind Napoli at the top. The league leaders hold a double-digit advantage over every other side in the division heading into the World Cup break.

Napoli deserve every bit of their advantage, having played the best football in Italy this season by a distance. On Saturday they collected their 11th consecutive league win, beating Udinese 3-2 in a game less close than that scoreline implies. They were three goals up after an hour against opponents who had previously beaten Roma 4-0 and Inter 3-1.

It was yet another occasion to marvel at the outlandish talent of Victor Osimhen. He scored the first goal with a piece of classic centre-forward play, attacking the space behind his marker and glancing a header home from Eljif Elmas’s cross. The timing of his run and leap were everything. Osimhen appeared a foot taller than Jaka Bijol; in truth, he stands a couple of inches shorter.

Napoli’s second goal was a scintillating team move, Piotr Zielinski playing the ball out from the left corner of his own penalty box and finding Osimhen in the middle of the park. The forward turned and took two Udinese players with him as he drove toward the right wing before wrongfooting them with a no-look backheel to Hirving Lozano.

He, in turn, angled inwards before switching play back to Zielinski, who had run the length of the pitch. The Polish midfielder took one touch to wrongfoot the player tracking him and another to settle the ball before sweeping a shot into the bottom right corner of the net.

That was the 31st minute, and Elmas added a third goal for Napoli in the 58th, converting André-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s through-pass after beating Bijol one-on-one. Still, Napoli came forward, and only some sharp saves by the Udinese goalkeeper Marco Silvestri kept the margin at three.

Luciano Spalletti and Victor Osimhen, Napoli coach and striker.
Coach and star striker, Luciano Spalletti and Victor Osimhen, touch in as Napoli sign off with 41 points. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

Udinese’s counter-punch did not arrive until the 79th minute, though it was another goal to marvel at. Roberto Pereyra chipped the ball in from the left, Isaac Success weighted a pass just right with his chest and Ilija Nestorovski drilled a first-time half-volley into the bottom of the net.

Three minutes later, Udinese scored again. Kim Min-Jae blundered to get caught in possession by Lazar Samardzic, who punished the mistake fully with a ruthless finish. A quick-fire double might have induced panic in a less confident side. Napoli calmly steadied the ship and sailed home. Udinese managed one further shot in the game, and that from outside the box.

Quick Guide

Serie A results


Empoli 2-0 Cremonese, Napoli 3-2 Udinese, Sampdoria 0-2 Lecce, Bologna 3-0 Sassuolo, Atalanta 2-3 Inter, Monza 3-0 Salernitana, Roma 1-1 Torino, Hellas Verona 1-2 Spezia, Milan 2-1 Fiorentina, Juventus 3-0 Lazio

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Victory meant Napoli finished this season’s first chapter on 41 points. They have won 13 out of 15 matches – something that no other club besides Juventus had ever done in the history of Serie A. The Bianconeri have, admittedly, done it four times. Unsurprisingly, they finished top on each occasion. (One of those, it should be said, was the 2005-06 season for which they would later have their title stripped.)

Journalists continued to ask at full-time whether Napoli were ready to start talking about themselves as potential Scudetto winners for the first time since 1990. Frankly, at this point, it would be ludicrous to pretend otherwise. Nobody knows how a World Cup interruption will impact this season but at this moment Napoli are clear favourites for the plain and obvious reason that they have been much better than anyone else.

“It makes no difference to me if you talk about the Scudetto or not,” said Luciano Spalletti on Saturday. “I know that there are 69 points left to play for this season and that is an ocean. The only thing for us to do is to keep our gaze clear in the fog that other people want to create.”

What a way to lose the match! 😭

Fiorentina were left heartbroken after Nikola Milenković put the ball in the back of his own net 🥅

A crucial goal in the title race 🏆

— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 13, 2022

He thanked his squad for “playing like Martians” but the manager deserves just as much credit for keeping them on track even when key performers have been absent. Saturday’s game was the third in a row for Napoli without Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, the breakout star of this Serie A season, yet his replacement Elmas rivalled Osimhen for man of the match, overlapping fluidly with another squad player, Mathías Olivera, who was filling in for Mário Rui at left-back.

Contrary to interrupting his team’s rhythm, Spalletti said he was looking forward to the World Cup giving his players a chance to rest and get together for a midseason training camp. Only five are heading to Qatar. Osimhen’s Nigeria and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s Georgia both failed to qualify, while others, such as Mário Rui for Portugal, were simply overlooked.

Spalletti’s perspective is not shared by everyone. The Lazio manager, Maurizio Sarri, told reporters last week that he would likely not even watch a World Cup that he described as an “insult to football”, adulterating an entire season in his mind.

His team entered into the break on a less positive note, beaten 3-0 by Juventus. Lazio were the one other team who could have stayed within eight points of Napoli, but instead were leapfrogged by their opponents. Who would have dared to predict that Juventus would reach the World Cup in third place, after they opened the campaign with two wins in their first seven games?

Six consecutive clean sheets have allowed a rapid ascent, and performances are starting to catch up to results. The gradual return of Federico Chiesa, who set up the third goal off the bench against Lazio, offers further optimism for them of a stronger second part to the campaign.

They are not the only ones who have picked up momentum in recent weeks. Inter finished their year with an impressive 3-2 win away to Atalanta, giving them six wins from their last seven. The problem for all of them, as Juventus’s Massimiliano Allegri pointed out, is that Napoli are setting an impossible pace, on track to hit 52 points by the season’s midway stage.

It was left to the Milan director Paolo Maldini to strike a defiant note. “Of course we believe we can catch Napoli,” he said after his team’s last-gasp win over Fiorentina. “When we played the derby last year we were seven points behind Inter and then we managed to win. We know very well that it’s not easy to keep up this rhythm all the way to the end.”

The familiar sound of a two-decades-old dance track at San Siro on Sunday evening was a reminder of the enthusiasm that swept Milan to their first title in 11 years last season, and a warning that they have not given up on defending it just yet.

European roundup: Bayern ensure top spot, Napoli cling on for nervy victory | European club football

Bayern Munich eased past Schalke 2-0 to make sure of top spot going into the World Cup break as they hunt a record-extending 11th straight Bundesliga crown. The Bavarians, who fielded a starting lineup consisting entirely of World Cup-bound players, scored once in each half, through Serge Gnabry and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, with the Germany international Jamal Musiala delivering both assists.

Bayern’s sixth consecutive league win – and 10th across all competitions – lifted them to 34 points, six ahead of second-placed RB Leipzig. Freiburg and Union Berlin, both on 27, face each other on Sunday.

Bayern had the upper hand from the start but it was not until Musiala, who at 19 is the youngest Bayern player to reach 100 matches, combined well with Ganbry for the lead in the 38th minute.

“Jamal has played an outstanding first half of the season and will hopefully play even better at the World Cup and the second half of the season,” Julian Nagelsmann, the Bayern coach, said of his attacking midfielder. “He listens well and he wants to develop. He just has a lot of talent. He also has improved defensively.”

Musiala, who also has nine league goals, delivered his sixth assist of the season for Cameroon’s Choupo-Moting to tap in seven minutes after the restart and leave Schalke in last place following their eighth loss in the last nine matches.

RB Leipzig muscled their way past their hosts, Werder Bremen, 2-1 to finish the year with their fourth consecutive league victory. Leipzig, who had a bad start to the season with only one win in their first four league matches, have recovered in recent weeks with six consecutive wins across all competitions and a 13-game unbeaten run.

André Silva put the visitors in front in the 31st minute but a deflected shot from Christian Gross drew Werder level in the 56th. Leipzig, however, were sharper up front and Silva superbly flicked the ball to Xaver Schlager, charging into the box, to snatch the winner in the 71st minute.

Xaver Schlager watches his shot go into the net against Werder Bremen
Xaver Schlager (left) scores the winner at Werder Bremen. Photograph: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

The Bundesliga goes into a prolonged break after this weekend’s matches, resuming on 20 January.

Napoli’s nervy 3-2 win over Udinese highlights how the Serie A leaders cannot take their position for granted, their coach, Luciano Spalletti, said. Spalletti’s side almost squandered the chance of setting a club record of 11 consecutive Serie A victories within a season when Udinese substitutes Ilija Nestorovski and Lazar Samardzic both scored late in the game.

“Every victory is a struggle, and the final 15 minutes of this game help to underline just how much these players have achieved so far is not to be taken for granted,” Spalletti told DAZN. “We thought the game was over and took our foot off the gas, but the game is never over because when you can introduce players off the bench like Nestorovski, they can find a way through if you don’t keep the tempo up.“

Napoli go into the World Cup break top of the Serie A standings, with their next game to come in early January, but Spalletti was still cautious about talk of winning the league. “There are six challengers and they are all close by, because it just takes a couple of incidents, a couple of minutes to create problems,” he said.

“This afternoon’s match will help us because it hasn’t happened so far, but we need to be even more determined and committed to the end in every match.”

Champions League last-16 draw: tie-by-tie analysis | Champions League

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Last month, Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, advocating for a Super League, lamented that his club have faced Liverpool in just nine competitive games. His wish for more has been granted sooner than he expected and perhaps would have liked. Real beat Liverpool reasonably comfortably in last season’s final and had few issues topping a relatively straightforward group, while Liverpool have suffered a miserable start to the season. With Mohamed Salah returning to form, though, Jürgen Klopp’s side may have improved by February and, out of the title race, can afford to focus on Europe. Aurélien Tchouaméni has joined Real and Eduardo Camavinga was beginning to make an impact last season, but the sense remains that the post-Casemiro midfield is yet to be really tested.

Winners Liverpool.

RB Leipzig's André Silva is congratulated after scoring against Manchester City last season
RB Leipzig’s André Silva is congratulated after scoring against Manchester City last season. Photograph: Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

RB Leipzig v Manchester City

These teams met in last season’s group stage, City winning 6-3 at the Etihad before a 2-1 defeat in Germany, with qualification long since secured. In the first of those games, Leipzig were managed by Jesse Marsch; in the second by the caretaker Achim Beierlorzer. Since then Domenico Tedesco has come and gone and now, under Marco Rose, there has been a significant upturn. Saturday’s 3-0 win at Hoffenheim extended Leipzig’s unbeaten run to 11 games and they have been prolific in that time. The front four of André Silva, Dominik Szoboszlai, Christian Nkunku and Timo Werner, who should be back from his ankle injury by February, will test City on the counter.

Winners Manchester City.

Club Brugge v Benfica

Club Brugge were the great surprise of the group stage, winning their first three games without conceding a goal. They secured progress with a 0-0 draw at Atlético Madrid, but the heavy home defeat to Porto that ultimately cost them top spot perhaps gave a truer impression of their abilities: no pushovers, well-organised, but essentially limited. Benfica, meanwhile, ended the group stage in joyous form, with Rafa Silva and João Mario playing probably the best football of their careers. There may be defensive concerns but, even more than the 6-1 win at Maccabi Haifa that meant they topped the group, the 4-3 win over Juventus, when they should have won far more convincingly, demonstrated just how dangerous Roger Schmidt’s side can be.

Winners Benfica.

Milan v Tottenham

Tottenham have not lost to Milan in their four previous meetings, a Peter Crouch goal giving them a 1-0 win at San Siro in their last tie in 2010-11, but how good they are at the moment is anyone’s guess. Hampered by injuries to forwards, with a weird inability to play in the first half (particularly when Dejan Kulusevski is absent) and a dislocation between the midfield and the forward line, their results have been rather better than performances so far this season. The Italian champions have suffered only two defeats in Serie A and have in Rafael Leão one of the more exciting forwards in Europe, but they were desperately poor in losing twice to Chelsea during the group stages, with injuries offer only some excuse.

Winners Tottenham.

André-Frank Zambo Anguissa celebrates scoring Napoli’s second goal in their 4-1 win against Liverpool in September
André-Frank Zambo Anguissa celebrates scoring Napoli’s second goal in their 4-1 win against Liverpool in September. Photograph: Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Eintracht Frankfurt v Napoli

Top of Serie A, unbeaten domestically and hugely impressive in the group stage, Napoli may be the most serious Italian challengers since Juventus decided five league titles in five seasons just wasn’t good enough and got rid of Max Allegri. They are playing fast, dynamic football under Luciano Spalletti and, after the failure of Italy, Nigeria and Georgia to qualify for the World Cup, have an unusual number of players who should be refreshed by a winter break. But unfancied as they may be under Oliver Glasner, Eintracht Frankfurt have become masters of the European away leg. Their Europa League success last season featured victories at Real Betis, Barcelona and West Ham, and this season they won on the road against Marseille and, when they absolutely needed it, Sporting.

Winners Napoli.

Borussia Dortmund v Chelsea

After a shaky start, progress from the group ended up being straightforward for Chelsea, but this is a club still undergoing transition as the recent league defeats to Brighton and Arsenal have shown. There were problems to be addressed in the squad even before the complications of sanctions, and recent injuries have exposed the imbalances that Graham Potter will need to resolve. With Sevilla in miserable form, Borussia Dortmund qualified for the last 16 easily enough, thanks in no small part to a 4-1 win in Spain, a game that highlighted just how important Jude Bellingham has become to Alen Terzic’s side. He may be only 19 but only he, Julian Brandt and Nico Schlotterback have played all 13 league games this season.

Winners Chelsea.

Internazionale v Porto

Porto trail Benfica by eight points domestically but they showed admirable resolve to bounce back from successive defeats at the start of the group stage to qualify with four wins in a row. After suffering a knee injury a month ago, Pepe is a doubt for the World Cup but Porto should have his experience back at the heart of the defence for the last 16. This has not been an easy season domestically for Internazionale and they were twice well-beaten by Bayern Munich, but two fine counterattacking performances against Barcelona ensured progress to the knockout phase for only the second time in the past decade. If Romelu Lukaku can rediscover his form and fitness, his partnership with Lautaro Martínez represents a major threat.

Winners Porto.

PSG’s Keylor Navas concedes the only goal of the 2020 Champions League final to Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman
PSG’s Keylor Navas concedes the only goal of the 2020 Champions League final to Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman (second right). Photograph: Miguel A Lopes/AP

Paris Saint-Germain v Bayern Munich

For most of the group stage Paris Saint-Germain seemed to be cruising to top spot, but they were undone at the last by Benfica’s flurry away to Maccabi Haifa and are punished with a repeat of the 2020 final. In a sense they fell into a trap they had dug themselves by drawing at home against Benfica the day after stories broke of Kylian Mbappé’s supposed unhappiness at the club. The competing egos will always be the biggest challenge for a PSG coach. Bayern are top of the Bundesliga again, but four draws and a defeat at Augsburg have led to a certain amount of chuntering about Julian Nagelsmann, despite six wins out of six in the Champions League. His record in big European games is not brilliant.

Winners Bayern Munich.

European roundup: Napoli sink Atalanta to stretch lead at top of Serie A | European club football

Napoli extended their Serie A winning streak to nine games when first-half goals from Victor Osimhen and Eljif Elmas secured a 2-1 comeback victory at second-placed Atalanta, stretching the victors’ lead to eight points, at least until Milan’s late game against Spezia.

Luciano Spalletti’s men played without their exciting young winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who was out due to acute lower back pain that he felt in training on Friday.

The home side’s Ademola Lookman opened the scoring after 19 minutes with a penalty after handball by Osimhen. Napoli’s 23-year-old Nigerian international made amends four minutes later when he headed home Piotr Zielinski’s cross.

In the 35th, Elmas put the visitors in front after taking a pass from Osimhen inside the box, with his effort flying into the net via a slight deflection off Atalanta’s Hans Hateboers.

The hosts started the second half aggressively, chasing an equaliser. Joakim Maehle’s shot after 55 minutes was saved superbly by Meret and Lookman hit the rebound against the bar. That was as close as Atalanta came.

Bayern Munich’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting scored twice in two minutes to lead the champions to a nervy 3-2 victory at Hertha Berlin as they went top in the Bundesliga, with the previous leaders, Union Berlin, playing at Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday. The 33-year-old Cameroon forward is in scintillating form less than three weeks before the World Cup, having netted for the seventh consecutive game in all competitions and the fourth straight in the league.

Jamal Musiala gave the visitors an early lead, rifling in after 12 minutes. In a frenzied end to the first half Choupo-Moting slotted in their second goal in the 38th before pouncing on a bad clearance to knock in another a minute later to make it 3-0.

Borussia Dortmund fans hold banners in protest to the World Cup in Qatar.
Borussia Dortmund fans hold banners in protest to the World Cup in Qatar. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

But Hertha, whose fans unfurled a banner reading “Boycott Qatar 2022” over the Gulf state’s human rights record, still had time to score twice before the break. Dodi Lukebakio volleyed in at the far post in the 40th and Davie Selke converted a 45th-minute penalty to cut the deficit. The pace dropped off after the break with Bayern doing enough to protect their slim lead.

The World Cup hopeful Youssoufa Moukoko scored twice as Borussia Dortmund cruised past local rivals VfL Bochum 3-0 to take over third spot. The 17-year-old Moukoko could not have delivered a better pitch ahead of Germany coach Hansi Flick’s squad announcement next week, confirming his outstanding form when he rifled in from 18 metres to give Dortmund the lead in the eighth minute.

Moukoko, who became the youngest player to reach 10 career goals in the Bundesliga, added another on the stroke of halftime, after Gio Reyna had made it 2-0. He audaciously lobbed the ball over out-of-position keeper Manuel Riemann for his sixth league goal of the season.

There was more good news for Dortmund early in the second half when captain Marco Reus made his comeback from injury, just in time for the World Cup squad announcement.

Borussia Dortmund fans had a banner showing German television’s test card and the message: “Switch off Qatar”.

This story will be updated

European roundup: Osimhen hits hat-trick for flying Napoli, Bayern score six | European club football

Victor Osimhen struck a hat-trick as Napoli extended their unbeaten Serie A run to 16 matches with a 4-0 thrashing of Sassuolo.

Osimhen put Napoli ahead in the fourth minute after latching on to a pass from Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and flicking it into the net. The 23-year-old Nigerian made it 2-0 in the 19th minute when he connected to another Kvaratskhelia pass and fired the ball behind the Sassuolo keeper, Andrea Consigli. Kvaratskhelia continued the rout in the 36th minute before Osimhen completed his hat-trick in the 77th minute by intercepting a poor Sassuolo pass and lobbing the ball over Consigli.

Napoli have a six-point lead in Serie A with 32 points from 12 games, six points ahead of second-placed Milan, who face Torino on Sunday. Sassuolo are ninth with 15 points.

A late goal by the half-time substitute Nicolò Fagioli earned Juventus a 1-0 victory at Lecce as Massimiliano Allegri’s side took their third consecutive win in Serie A. Juve moved up two places to sixth on 22 points, one ahead of both Udinese, who travel to bottom side Cremonese on Sunday, and Internazionale before they host Sampdoria later on Saturday.

Juventus’s Nicolò Fagioli celebrates his goal against Leece with his teammate Matías Soulé.
Juventus’s Nicolò Fagioli celebrates his goal against Leece with his teammate Matías Soulé. Photograph: Alberto Lingria/Reuters

After a dull first half with no threat to either goal, the Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot came close to nodding in a corner from Filip Kostic just before half-time but the Lecce goalkeeper, Wladimiro Falcone, dived full-stretch to deny him.

Three minutes into the second half Falcone kept out a header by the defender Federico Gatti from Juan Cuadrado’s free kick. Allegri’s side could have taken the lead in the 53rd minute but a back-heel from close range by the striker Arkadiusz Milik was saved by Falcone. The Poland forward had another chance in the 64th minute when he struck from the edge of the box but was again denied by the in-form Falcone.

The 21-year-old Fagioli secured the win with his first Serie A goal after 73 minutes when his curled shot from the edge of the box bounced in off a post after an assist by his fellow substitute Samuel Iling-Junior, who had just come on.

Lecce came close to levelling just before the final whistle but the midfielder Morten Hjulmand struck a post.

Bayern Munich demolished visitors Mainz 6-2, with Sadio Mané scoring once and setting up two more goals, to take over the lead in the Bundesliga. The Senegal international, who scored in Bayern’s 3-0 midweek win at Barcelona in the Champions League, also missed a penalty.

Sadio Mané fires home Bayern Munich’s third goal against Mainz.
Sadio Mané fires home Bayern Munich’s third goal against Mainz. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala and Leon Goretzka were also on target for Bayern along with the substitute Mathys Tel and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. Mainz briefly cut the deficit twice, with goals from Silvan Widmer and Marcus Ingvartsen, after also missing a penalty.

The champions are now two points clear at the top of the table with 25 points. Union Berlin, in second place on 23, are in action against Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday. Mainz drop to eighth on 18.

The England international Jude Bellingham rifled in his third league goal of the season to give Borussia Dortmund a 2-1 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt that lifted them into third.

Bellingham fired Dortmund back in front in the 52nd minute with a low shot but his side had the goalkeeper Gregor Kobel to thank for protecting their lead with a string of superb saves in the second half.

Dortmund took a 21st-minute lead through Julian Brandt but Frankfurt levelled five minutes later when Daichi Kamada rifled in from 18 metres for his seventh goal of the campaign. After Bellingham’s goal Frankfurt pushed forward and forced Kobel to pull off save after save, twice denying Randal Kolo Muani and Jesper Lindstrom and coming to the rescue several more times.

Lionel Messi grabbed a goal and an assist to inspire Paris Saint-Germain to a 4-3 comeback victory over Troyes as they restored their lead at the top of Ligue 1 to five points. Mama Baldé gave Troyes the lead twice before Messi assumed control to score his seventh league of the season and take his tally of assists to 10 – a league high.

Troyes needed just three minutes to stun the crowd at the Parc des Princes as Abdu Conté raced down the touchline to send a cross into the box where Rony Lopes set up a chance for Baldé to volley in.

In the 24th minute Neymar scooped a ball into the box for Carlos Soler, who rounded the keeper to score, but Baldé restored Troyes’ lead seven minutes into the second half after firing low past the goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Messi then stole the show, first by equalising from long range with a sizzling strike before turning provider minutes later with an incisive ball for Neymar to score as PSG went ahead for the first time. Gallon then brought Soler down in the box and Kylian Mbappé converted the penalty.

Troyes pulled one back through an Ante Palaversa header but PSG held on. The visitors remain in 11th place with 13 points.

This story will be updated

Giovanni Simeone fires in early double as Napoli swat aside dismal Rangers | Champions League

Rangers’ sobering Champions League campaign continued on its downward trajectory with a 3-0 defeat against Napoli in the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. A 7-1 defeat by Liverpool at Ibrox in their last Group A outing had shocked the Light Blues and their fans and it looked ominous when striker Giovanni Simeone scored twice in the first 16 minutes for the dominant home side.

The second half was more encouraging for the visitors but the defender Leo Østigård headed in a third from a corner in the 80th minute to seal the win and leave the Serie A leaders with five wins out of five in the group. By contrast, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side have lost all five games, conceding 19 goals and scoring one, and he will now find himself under more pressure.

Last season’s Europa League finalists are out of Europe altogether, barring an unlikely thrashing of Ajax in the final game at Ibrox next week. A real sense of trepidation surrounded Rangers for their trip to Naples to play an in-form team who won 3-0 at Ibrox, though the home side had put up a good fight until James Sands was sent off.

It was another reshuffled Rangers lineup with Van Bronckhorst giving a first Champions League start to the left-back Ridvan Yilmaz, while Sands, Alfredo Morelos and Scott Wright came back in. The Napoli manager, Luciano Spalletti, made six changes as he rested some key players including Hirving Lozano, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen.

However, the Italian club – unbeaten in all 15 previous games this season and on a run of 11 successive wins – were still packed with quality including the captain, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, and the South Korea defender Kim Min-jae, with the Norwegian Østigård making his debut in defence. Van Bronckhorst had asked for a display of character but that was in question as they soon fell 2-0 behind.

There were just 11 minutes gone when Di Lorenzo sent the striker Simeone down the right flank, and despite the attention of the defender Leon King he fired the ball low across the keeper Allan McGregor and in at the far post. Four minutes later, Simeone headed in a cross from Mario Rui with the defenders King and Ben Davies helpless either side. Rangers looked like they would crumble further.

There was a let-off for the ragged visitors in the 22nd minute when Tanguy Ndombele cracked the crossbar with a drive from distance and then, in the 38th minute, McGregor saved a close-range header from Giacomo Raspadori as Napoli stepped up the pressure again. It was all too comfortable for Napoli, although the Rangers midfielder Malik Tillman had a shot blocked in a rare foray into the opposition box before Morelos’s deflected strike on a counterattack was saved by the home goalkeeper Alex Meret.

Fashion Sakala replaced Wright for the second half and Rangers reverted to a back five but soon Simeone had another chance, this time lobbing McGregor from the edge of the box, but it bounced over the bar. The Rangers defence was being easily opened up.

McGregor blocked an angled drive from Simeone with his foot before Rangers enjoyed a spell of positive possession around the hour and a Morelos volley was blocked by Rui. Next the Colombia striker missed the ball altogether from just five yards out from a Yilmaz cross.

In between those two chances a loose pass from the Rangers captain James Tavernier gave Raspadori a chance but he bent his shot wide of the far post. In the 79th minute McGregor saved an effort from Rui and from the resultant corner from Raspadori, Østigård rose to power in a header and add gloss to a convincing home win.

European roundup: Oshimen’s stunner seals victory for leaders Napoli at Roma | European club football

Napoli’s seemingly unstoppable winning streak continued when Victor Osimhen’s late strike secured a 1-0 win at Roma in Serie A, giving them 11 straight victories in all competitions.

In front of a raucous crowd at the Stadio Olimpico, both sides were evenly matched in a largely uneventful first half. Napoli thought they had a penalty in the 38th minute when Roma goalkeeper Rui Patrício challenged Tanguy Ndombele but the decision was rescinded after a VAR check.

Napoli were in control by the hour mark and had several chances, with Roma struggling to get the ball out of their own half. Osimhen secured the win for Napoli 10 minutes from time when he half-volleyed in a brilliant rasping shot from an acute angle, after getting the better of his marker Chris Smalling.

Napoli have a three-point lead at the top with 29 after 11 games, three ahead of Milan in second. Roma are fifth with 22 points.

Mattia Zaccagni and Felipe Anderson scored to give Lazio a comfortable 2-0 win at Atalanta, moving up to third as a result. Zaccagni converted in the 10th minute, poking in a Pedro cross.

Anderson made it 2-0 seven minutes after half-time, firing a low shot into the bottom-left corner. The visitors continued to control the game and Atalanta had Luis Muriel sent off in the 90th minute for a second booking.

The Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said: “It’s a fair defeat. It’s true that Lazio had an extraordinary first half and we were unable to limit their passing, while the early goal put them in the best possible situation. Only after the second goal did we see something positive.

“It’s a loss we deserved and we will learn from this experience. We hoped that Lazio would drop their tempo and we got close after the second goal but it was too late,” Gasperini added. “We had not yet met a team that was so good on a technical level and with a high press; they always got to the ball first, and perhaps we had not yet faced a team of this level.”

In Spain, Ousmane Dembélé scored and provided assists for Sergi Roberto, Robert Lewandowski and Ferran Torres as Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in La Liga.

Barça remain second in the table on 28 points, three behind leaders Real Madrid and five clear of third-placed Atlético Madrid. The hosts scored three times in 10 minutes in the first half, starting with Dembélé’s towering header from close range in the 12th minute.

The France forward then put Roberto through with some brilliant one touch build-up play in the 18th minute, with the Spanish full back’s strike bouncing in off a defender past a helpless Unai Simón.

Ousmane Dembélé scored one goal and set up three in Barcelona’s 4-0 win against Athletic Bilbao.
Ousmane Dembélé (centre) scored one goal and set up three in Barcelona’s 4-0 win against Athletic Bilbao. Photograph: Quique García/EPA

Four minutes later, Dembélé ran down the right channel before crossing to Lewandowski who swivelled and finished with a powerful shot. Barça took their foot off the gas after the break but there was still time for Dembélé to deliver another assist less than 20 minutes before the end, playing the ball in from the left touchline for Torres to score.

Two second-half goals from Antoine Griezmann, one scored directly from a corner kick, gave Atlético Madrid a 2-1 win at Real Betis, extending their unbeaten run to five games. Griezmann opened the scoring in the 54th minute directly from a corner.

Fifteen minutes later, substitute Matheus Cunha passed to Griezmann whose right-footed shot found the bottom right corner. Betis replied with a Nabil Fekir free-kick in the 84th minute but the visitors held firm.

In Germany, relegation-threatened VfL Bochum scored once in either half to stun Union Berlin 2-1, leaving the Bundesliga leaders with only a one-point gap at the top and moving off the bottom of the table.

Union, with the league’s best backline before the game, suffered only their second loss of the season. Philipp Hofmann’s glancing header two minutes before the break put Bochum with the hosts’ high press proving a major problem for Urs Fischer’s team.

Union’s Milos Pantovic whipped a shot just wide on the hour mark but it was Bochum, who had also hit the woodwork early in the second half, who scored again.
This time they struck on the break with Gerrit Holtmann completing the lightning-quick passing move, tapping in from a Christopher Antwi-Adjei assist.
Union remain in top spot on 23 points, one ahead of champions Bayern Munich. Freiburg are third on 21.

Schalke 04, who sacked coach Frank Kramer on Wednesday, dropped to bottom place following their 2-1 defeat at Hertha Berlin courtesy of Wilfried Kanga’s 88th-minute winner.

Dangerous depth of Napoli’s squad leaves Serie A rivals in their wake | Serie A

“Every match is a voyage into the unknown,” insisted Luciano Spalletti on Saturday, yet his team keep arriving at the same destination. Sometimes the path is bumpy, and sometimes it is smooth, but at the end Napoli always find the three points they were looking for.

This weekend brought a 10th consecutive win, extending a sequence that has carried them to first place in Serie A and their Champions League group. On paper, a home game against Bologna – who began the weekend one spot above the relegation zone – looked straightforward. In practice, it was the windiest road yet.

The visitors took the lead with a well-worked goal in the 41st minute, three players combining to set up 21-year-old Joshua Zirkzee for a goal on his first start. Their lead did not survive even to half-time, Juan Jesus equalising from a corner after Gary Medel made a mess of his clearance. If the source of the goal was surprising – Jesus was filling in at centre-back for the injured Amir Rrahmani and had scored three times in his previous 250 Serie A games – then the fact of it was not. Napoli had created chances throughout the first half, most originating from the feet of the irrepressible Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

There was a seven-minute patch in which he conjured four separate scoring opportunities: sending Giacomo Raspadori, Mário Rui and then Matteo Politano through on goal, with a shot of his own in-between. Kvaratskhelia himself was the only one to demand a save from the goalkeeper, though Rui did hit the upright.

The man known locally as “Kvaradona” has piled up seven goals and six assists in all competitions, but even those numbers do not fully convey his impact: the consistency with which he finds space between the lines and the ease with which he distributes the ball off either foot. One Neapolitan reporter characterised him on Sunday as “the Van Gogh of the football pitches”, painting a fresh masterpiece each week.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in action against Bologna.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in action against Bologna. Photograph: Cesare Abbate/EPA

He was instrumental in the goal that put Napoli 2-1 ahead right after the interval, chasing a pass down the left and beating two defenders before firing through a tight window across goal. Bologna’s Lukasz Skorupski could only parry and the ball ran to Hirving Lozano, who buried it at the back post. That ought to have ended this match as a contest, with Napoli dominating all phases of the game. Instead, they allowed Bologna to draw level again two minutes later, when Musa Barrow’s shot from 25 yards went straight through goalkeeper Alex Meret.

Even still, Napoli never truly seemed in danger. This was a cat with a mouse, toying with its prey, allowing only the illusion of hope. In the 69th minute Kvaratskhelia carved Bologna open again with a through-pass for Victor Osimhen, who nutmegged Skorupski .

If Kvaratskhelia was the stand-out performer, then the identity of his collaborator for this final goal felt just as significant. Osimhen only returned in midweek from a muscle injury that kept him out of action for a month. He had already come off the bench and scored in Napoli’s win over Ajax before repeating the trick here.

Not so long ago, Osimhen was considered the one indispensable figure in Napoli’s team. The club’s all-time record signing, he helped to fire them top of Serie A last season before a cheekbone fracture in their first defeat, against Inter in November, sidelined him for two months. By the time he returned, his teammates had lost three more times and slipped six points off the pace.

There have been no such struggles during his absence this time around. Summer signing Raspadori is a different mould of centre-forward, almost half a foot shorter and more comfortable roaming all over the pitch instead of occupying defenders as a target-man. A false nine, in other words, to Osimhen’s genuine article. Raspadori has started most games up front in the Nigerian’s absence, and did so against both Ajax and Bologna. Spalletti’s Napoli, just like his Roma side of the late 2000s, when he reinvented Francesco Totti as the frontman in a famous 4-6-0 formation, have thrived by denying opponents reference points, giving themselves the possibility to attack at any time, from any angle.

Thirteen different players have scored for them in 10 league games and you can add two more if you include their Champions League fixtures. Raspadori’s willingness to vacate space in the middle creates opportunities for Lozano, Politano or Kvaratskhelia to arrow in from the flanks, while Piotr Zielinski, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa or Stanislav Lobotka can take turns to maraud forward from midfield.

Does that same formula work with Osimhen in the line-up? Spalletti has insisted in various interviews that this is a question of horses for courses, suggesting that some matches require physicality up front where other defences are best unpicked with stealth and movement.

Luciano Spalletti and the assistant referee during the match.
Luciano Spalletti and the assistant referee during the match. Photograph: Ciro de Luca/Reuters

With characteristic confidence, the manager asserted at his pre-game press conference that balancing the ambitions of his attackers with the needs of the team was “easy”. Perhaps that was because he has seen the chemistry between them first-hand. Asked during a post-game interview with Dazn about the competition for places, Osimhen replied: “I adore Raspadori. I liked him when he was at Sassuolo, I’m not just saying it because we’re on the same team now. He’s a great player and a great guy. We have an excellent relationship and I’m happy for his progress. The important thing is to be united, there is a lot of solidarity in this team.”

Not everyone may be so patient. The midfielder Eljif Elmas, who contributed seven goals and six assists last season, but has just two starts so far in this campaign, caused a stir with an Instagram post last week of him stood beside the dugout with the caption: “My first love: the bench.” Yet the instinct within the club has not been to overreact to a player presenting personal frustrations in a light-hearted way.

It is, after all, the depth of this Napoli squad that makes it dangerous. Even when Osimhen was absent, if Spalletti wanted to give Raspadori a rest he could send on Giovanni Simeone, another summer arrival, who has scored four times in 277 minutes on the pitch. Jesus filled in ably for Rrahmani against Bologna, as did Tanguy Ndombélé for Anguissa in midfield.

What side in Serie A can boast a deeper range of options at so many positions? After Meret’s blunder – and he did almost concede again when flapping at a corner late on – we might also remind ourselves that Napoli have Salvatore Sirigu, capped 28 times for Italy, available as an alternative goalkeeper if one bad game were to evolve into a full-blown crisis of confidence.

Quick Guide

Serie A results


Atalanta 2-1 Sassuolo, Torino 0-1 Juventus, Empoli 1-0 Monza, Verona 1-2 Milan, Napoli 3-2 Bologna, Spezia 2-2 Cremonese, Lazio 0-0 Udinese, Inter 2-0 Salernitana

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“This is a wonderful group to coach,” said Spalletti at full-time. “The team plays good football and everyone still wants to get better. I see that interest in training, I see everyone involved.” He continued to sidestep premature talk about where this season could end up. Spalletti does not know the future any better than the rest of us. But he and his players are enjoying every winning voyage along the way.

Champions League roundup: Bayern, Napoli and Brugge seal knockout places | Champions League

Bayern Munich cruised past Viktoria Plzen 4-2, putting them through to the knockout stage of the Champions League after punishing the Czech champions during a ruthless first-half display.

The victory combined with Barcelona’s 3-3 draw with Internazionale put Bayern through to the knockout stage while confirming the hosts’ exit. Bayern, who have now gone a record-extending 32 group matches in the competition without defeat, struck first after 10 minutes when Sadio Mané played a one-two with Leon Goretzka before putting the ball in the net.

An unmarked Thomas Müller doubled the visitors’ lead, before Goretzka nabbed two goals to round off the scoring for Bayern. Adam Vlkanova and Jan Kliment pulled goals back for the home side in the second half.

Napoli kept up their 100% record in the Champions League group phase and secured progress to the knockout stages by beating Ajax 4-2 at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

Early goals from Hirving Lozano and Giacomo Raspadori put the Serie A leaders comfortably ahead by the 16-minute mark and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia added a second-half penalty after Davy Klaassen had pulled one back for Ajax.

The Dutch club made a desperate bid for a share of the spoils as Steven Bergwijn converted an 83rd-minute penalty to bring the score back to 3-2 but a terrible defensive error allowed Victor Osimhen to score Napoli’s fourth in the final minute.

Napoli’s 12-point haul means they are guaranteed a top-two finish in Group A, having scored 17 goals in four matches. Elsewhere in the section, Liverpool demolished Rangers 7-1 to put themselves a point away from qualification.

Hirving Lozano celebrates his opening goal with Victor Osimhen, who later came on to score Napoli’s fourth.
Hirving Lozano celebrates his opening goal with Victor Osimhen, who later came on to score Napoli’s fourth. Photograph: DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Club Brugge reached the knockout round after a 0-0 draw against Atlético Madrid guaranteed them a top-two spot in Group B. Atlético squandered a string of chances as they extended their winless streak in the competition to three games.

Elsewhere in the group, Porto’s Galeno scored one goal and earned two penalties for Mehdi Taremi to convert as they cruised to a 3-0 victory at Bayer Leverkusen, taking over second place with two matches remaining.

With manager Xabi Alonso making his Champions League debut on the Leverkusen bench, the German side quickly found themselves a goal behind after six minutes. Try as they might the hosts could not get back into the game with Porto keeper Diogo Costa pulling off several outstanding saves.

Porto’s win lifted them into second place on six points, Leverkusen are in fourth place on three points with only an outside chance of qualifying. Atlético are third on four.

In Group D, Marseille boosted their chances of reaching the last 16 with a 2-0 victory at nine-man Sporting. Mattéo Guendouzi and Alexis Sánchez scored before the break as Sporting, who lost Ricardo Esgaio and Pedro Gonçalves to red cards either side of the interval.

The result put Marseille in second place on six points, one behind Tottenham who beat Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2. Sporting are third on six points, two ahead of Eintracht.