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There are multiple story lines that could be woven into a discussion on Napoli’s win over Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday. The partenopei, an average club paying average wages to a relatively small squad, defeated the oil-sheik’s wealthy play toys. On a broader level, the team from the inferior Serie A beat the club from the best league in the world to take second place in Group A. And on a much narrower level, Edinson Cavani, who’d looked out-of-sorts in a few matches this season, now seems intent on proving he wasn’t just a one-season wonder, scoring both goals to give Napoli the 2-1 win.

But while Tuesday’s match certainly can be made to embrace all these themes, in the end, what it really boils down to was this: Napoli, with the full strength of the San Paolo behind them, took to the field in their blue and gold Champions League kits to show the world that they truly deserved a spot in the tournament. They didn’t do it by resting against Lazio the week before, despite the accusations of the English commentators — in fact, it was City who made four changes from their starting XI against Newcastle United, while Walter Mazzarri’s only change was to use Walter Gargano rather than Blerim Dzemaili in midfield (although he was forced to fall back on Dzemaili anyway when Gokhan Inler left the match in the second half with a back twinge). They didn’t do it by changing their style of play — the 3-4-3 formation, the focus on the counterattack, was in full display in Naples that night.

No, the match against Manchester City was solely about the incredible display of the players. Hugo Campagnaro may not be as lauded as, say, Aleksandar Kolarov, but even he was able to outrun the visiting defense and take a chance on goal. While Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi have all been rumored to be connected to City, their names don’t make much of an impact in other circles, not like, say, Mario Balotelli. And even Salvatore Aronica had a good night…for fifteen minutes, at least (and then he later gave away the ball that set up the Balotelli goal, so he remains the weakest link in the azzurri side). Andrea Dossena put in what was arguably his best performance in the past two seasons. Christian Maggio continues to be a terror, and Morgan De Sanctis a blessing from heaven.

This is a team that deserves to move on to the Round of 16. The vesuviani shouldn’t get ahead of themselves, mind: Bayern Munich have no reason to give their all against Manchester City, when they’ve got to worry about securing the Bundesliga title, and Villarreal won’t want to leave the tournament with nary a point, even if it counts for nothing. But since head-to-head records count, if City fail to win, Napoli won’t need as much as one point from the yellow submarines.

Still, partenopei fans, and fans of thrilling football in general, should rest safely in the knowledge that the team will be doing everything it can to secure a win in Spain next time around. Napoli simply don’t do cautious football. And even if Cavani manages to go missing again, the side features El Pocho, who certainly has been revitalized over the last few months. Lavezzi’s strength and his agility have made him an absolute demon on the pitch this season. Opposing players just don’t quite know how to handle the Argentine. While it’s the Holy Trinity that truly creates Napoli wins, it’s been the play of Lavezzi that makes or breaks the outing. When he’s on his game, it is near impossible to take your eyes off him.

Hats off to Napoli then — their destiny is truly in their own hands. Their play in Serie A might at times be wanting this season, but they’re proving they can play amongst the biggest clubs. They were slotted into the group of death, and not only have they shown their worth, but they’re on their way to showing the rest of the world that Italian football is no longer stodgy, or defensive, or boring. We’d all hoped for Udinese to advance to showcase Italian style, but the azzurri have more than filled that role.

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