Napoli fought back in a contentious, dramatic and exhilarating 4-3 thriller to beat Fiorentina at the Stadio Franchi on Franck Ribery’s debut.
Viola President Rocco Commisso flew in from New York for this Serie A season opener and the enthusiasm in the Stadio Franchi was palpable, especially after Franck Ribery arrived this week, although he was only fit for the bench. Cristiano Biraghi was dropped ahead of an imminent move to Inter, so Vincenzo Montella put his faith in a very young squad, including 20-year-old Riccardo Sottil, son of former defender Andrea. Arkadiusz Milik was injured and Hirving Lozano just arrived from PSV Eindhoven, so Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Kostas Manolas were the only new faces in Carlo Ancelotti’s XI.
The first chance fell to 19-year-old Dusan Vlahovic, whose back-heel flick from a Federico Chiesa pull-back was charged down by Kalidou Koulibaly.
VAR and above all the new handball rules were called into action, giving Fiorentina an early penalty. It was very harsh, as Piotr Zielinski had his arms slightly raised to hold a defender behind him, but the ball was deflected by a knee on to the underside of his arm. Former Bologna midfielder Erick Pulgar converted by sending Alex Meret the wrong way.
Fabian Ruiz just failed to get on the end of a poor Pulgar back-pass and Nikola Milenkovic nodded wide from a free kick, but Kalidou Koulibaly’s half-volley was deflected over from a corner.
Napoli got their equaliser out of nowhere, as Dries Mertens controlled with his back to goal, turned German Pezzella and curled a stunner into the far top corner from the edge of the area. Bartlomiej Dragowski perhaps should’ve done better, as he got his fingertips to it, but the ball went right into the corner.
Moments later, there was controversy when Mertens pounced on a defensive error and seemed to let himself fall over Castrovilli, who was already on the ground. VAR did not intervene and Lorenzo Insigne converted the penalty, with Dragowski rooted to the spot.
Fiorentina fought back after the restart, as Sottil’s shot was deflected on to the side-netting after a Chiesa slalom and on the resulting corner Nikola Milenkovic soared above the crowd for a powerful downward header to equalise.
Just as they were pouring forward with several Chiesa attempts, Napoli restored their advantage instead. Insigne spotted Callejon’s run down the right and rolled it across for the Spaniard’s precise snooker shot into the far bottom corner.
Kevin-Prince Boateng came on and practically his first touch was a half-volley from a huge distance that Meret got down well to block.
It was only a warning, because Boateng got the equaliser for 3-3 after another great team move, the Ghanaian veteran getting away from Koulibaly and placing a precise angled drive in off the inside of the far post from the edge of the box.
Napoli hit back again for 4-3 moments later, as Mertens found Callejon at the back post to knock it back for Insigne’s header from six yards. With two in the net and two assists, it was the first time in Insigne’s Serie A career that he was directly involved in four goals.
There was even time for Ribery to make his Serie A debut in the final 13 minutes and German Pezzella could’ve made it 4-4, but scuffed his finish from a corner.
Ribery went down right on the edge of the box in a tussle with Elseid Hysaj, but the referee and VAR waved play on.
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