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Napoli move into third place in the Serie A standings after a monumental game at the Stadio San Paolo against Palermo on Monday evening. Before the match, Vesuviani coach Walter Mazzarri had promised us a game of beautiful football and over 40 thousand spectators went along to the famous old stadium to see if his predictions would come true.

Mazzarri stuck to his tried and tested 3-4-2-1 formation with former Palermo striker Edinson Cavani, leading the line backed by the Argentinean Ezequiel Lavezzi and Slovakian Marik Hamsik. Palermo tactician Delio Rossi, decided to stand toe to toe with his opposite number and discarded his four man defence to go with the same formation as the home side. This switch surprised everyone, as full-backs Federico Balzaretti and Mattia Cassani, were pushed into the midfield to try to counteract the runs of Napoli wide men, Christian Maggio and Andrea Dossena

Napoli came came out of the blocks faster than Usain Bolt in a 100 metre Olympic final, Maggio finding acres of space on the right hand side of the field as Balzaretti neglected his defensive duties. Lavezzi was ghosting into positions of increasing danger at an alarming rate, as Palermo’s rearguard of Cesare Bovo, Dorin Goian and Ezequiel Muñoz found themselves exposed time and time again. Within the first 15 minutes, Maggio tested Palermo’s international goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu with a couple of half decent efforts, but found the 23-year-old shot stopper in tremendous form.

Palermo striker Fabrizio Miccoli and Argentinean wonder kid Javier Pastore, were invisible in the opening exchanges but as the half wore on, the islanders managed to get a foothold in the game, Miccoli tested Napoli goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis with an shot that deflected off Balzaretti, but the deadlock remained unbroken as we approached the interval. Five minutes from the end of the first period, Vesuviani captain Paolo Cannavaro picked up an injury and remained on the field as a virtual spectator as he struggled to shake off the knock. On the stroke of half-time, Lavezzi had another effort pushed behind by Sirigu as the score-sheet remained goalless at the break.

For the second-half, Rossi discarded his three at the back formation, dropping Balzaretti into his more accustomed left-back role to try to stem the flow of attacks coming from the outstanding Maggio on Napoli’s right hand side. He didn’t and Balzaretti’s nightmare evening continued as the 28-year-old left him standing on numerous occasions. Palermo’s Slovenian midfielder Josip Iličić, needed to stamp his authority on the game but it was the home side once again, who dominated the opening stages after the re-start. Cavani stung the hands of Sirigu with a shot after great work down the left  from Andrea Dossena as the match started to open up. On the hour mark, Pastore linked well with Ilicic to get his first sight of goal, but De Sanctis was equal to it. Two minutes later, Cavani brought the best out of Sirigu as his shot was held by the young goalkeeper who was having an outstanding evening between the posts.

It was Sirigu against Napoli as the game entered its final quarter, Lavezzi and Cavani continued to test the youngster who was equal to anything thrown at him. Lavezzi then twisted an ankle as his foot got caught in the playing surface, after a short delay, the striker returned but he was clearly in some discomfort. Miccoli, who had had a largely ineffective evening for the visitors, was replaced by Massimo Maccarone for the final 20 minutes. Lavezzi lasted until the 73rd minute when he was substituted by 19-year-old striker Nicolao Dumitru.

It was becoming clear that one goal from either side would win the contest as we headed into the five minutes of added time that referee Morganti had allowed. Palermo had settled for a point and tried to kill the game dead by substituting the disappointing Iličić for Mauricio Panilla. With time almost up, Pastore’s attempted clearence was sliced and ended with the ball being presented to Cavani on the left hand side of the field, the Uruguayan played a delightful ball into the visitors penalty area that evaded the outstretched arms of Sirigu and there was Maggio, the outstanding player of the evening, to slide the ball home, just. Cue bedlam in the stands and sheer disbelief on the Palermo bench as they saw the match ripped away from them with the last kick of the night.

Mazzarri told Sky Italia after the game that “we were perfect tonight, we should have scored five“. Few would disagree that the Vesuviani were the superior side on the night and it was fitting that Maggio should be the match winner, but you had to feel sorry for the brilliant Sirigu, who will surely be the Azzurri’s number one goalkeeper when Gigi Buffon calls time on his international career.

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