Marek Hamsik’s latest record-breaking goal proved enough for a win at Crotone, ensuring Napoli are Campioni d’Inverno – Winter Champions.
The Partenopei would guarantee their status as Serie A leaders at the midway stage with a victory here, giving them the Winter Scudetto. Mario Rui was suspended with long-term absentees Faouzi Ghoulam and Arkadiusz Milik, so Elseid Hysaj had to shuffle over to left-back, bringing in Christian Maggio on the right. Crotone were still coming to terms with new Coach Walter Zenga and missed Daniel Pavlovic, Mariano Izco, Andrea Nalini, Marco Tumminello and banned Arlind Ajeti.
Napoli’s jersey included a special patch on the sleeve celebrating captain Marek Hamsik’s status as their new all-time top scorer on 116 goals, surpassing Diego Armando Maradona’s 115.
Hamsik tried to make it 117, as he completed a give-and-go with Lorenzo Insigne with the finish deflected for a corner. It was only a warning, as the captain did break the deadlock at the end of a wonderful team move with Hamsik first exchanging passes with Jorginho, then Allan to tear the defence apart until his low drive.
Moments later, Napoli were almost 2-0 up, Stefan Simic with a decisive block as Dries Mertens tried to tap in a Jose Callejon assist at the near post.
Another well-worked move down the right saw a Mertens dummy let Allan’s pass through and Insigne’s first-time strike was fingertipped out from under the bar.
Allan surged forward from midfield and used a step-over to confuse defenders before he was brought down by Federico Ceccherini just outside the box, from which Mertens curled over the bar. There were penalty appeals for a Mertens handball on a corner, but it was judged to be involuntary, as his arm was flush with his torso.
For all their domination, including 69 per cent possession in the first half, it was still only 1-0 and Adrian Stoian threatened an equaliser with his solo run and scorcher skimming the upright on 53 minutes.
Ante Budimir also forced a save from Pepe Reina at the near post, but the offside flag had been raised, then the goalkeeper almost gifted the equaliser with a poor back-pass, scrambling to palm the Marcello Trotta lob away from an open goal.
Napoli reacted, as Insigne’s trademark right-foot curler bounced off the crossbar and Jose Callejon’s effort on the rebound was well saved by Cordaz.
Hamsik rolled a dangerous ball across the face of goal with nobody there to meet it, then his ferocious cross-shot was beaten away by Cordaz.
Crotone substitute Giovanni Crociata’s long-range curler was fingertipped just round the far post, but in the final minutes Cordaz performed a stunning double save. He flew to palm the Amadou Diawara dipping strike on to the upright, then got back up to parry Callejon’s effort on the rebound.
There was a scare deep into stoppages when Ceccherini went down in the box under a Maggio challenge, but the referee had a perfect view and judged the Crotone man to have changed direction looking for the contact.