Napoli fan reporter Alessio Costabile describes a nervous night that turned into an ecstatic one
The Azzurri went into this second leg against Eintracht Frankfurt two goals to the good, with a sold-out stadium and having been absolutely dominant in both Serie A and the Champions League.
The press has been chanting for months about the football produced by the Spalletti gang, painting celebratory pictures of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen, our two wonderkids that nearly everyone in Europe is dreaming of having in their team. Many of our supporters are already starting to throw every superstition in the bin, with parades, tattoos, celebratory shirts, gadgets and even cars already decked out for the party after we win the Scudetto.
On top of that, Napoli have never managed to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals before now, even when Diego was around, so doing it this time would be incredible.
So here we are, with all the right ingredients for a day of euphoria. But the risks of a faux-pas, where Eintracht Frankfurt rain on our parade, are horridly and painfully high.
I chose to watch the game in a well-known provincial pub – the Maracanà, in Castellammare di Stabia – as I wasn't able to secure a ticket for the game, due to the fervour that has surrounded our team during these few months. However, I was still surrounded by Napoli fans, also taking the opportunity to celebrate Saint Patrick’s week with a pint or two.
I sit at my table as the owner of the pub, Antonio, a hardcore Napoli fan since he was in the cradle, starts blasting the intergenerational Azzurri hymn Life is Life by Opus from the speakers, going around the rooms literally invoking chants of Diego Maradona and shouting, “He’s here with us!” His son, Gabriele, is going around the tables taking orders, showing off a curly blue wig and a Napoli flag across his shoulders.
The game starts and after 44 minutes of tension, it becomes clear that my early apprehensions were unnecessary. The whole room cheers as Osimhen and Piotr Zieliński earn us an incredible 5-0 aggregate win, and the partying begins. The Azzurri’s historic qualification is greeted by chants of the popular stadium hymn Sarò con te (I'll Be With You), while Antonio and Gabriele dance on the creaking wooden floor of the pub waving blue flags.
I see children talking about Osimhen and Kvara with a twinkle in their eyes, as people begin calculating our probability of reaching the semis. I feel the true spirit of this universal sport, this unifying European competition, which brings fans together and crushes the barriers that divide us.
Fast forward to less than 48 hours later and we’re in Nyon. Hamit Altintop and Patrick Kluivert are shuffling the names, drawing one each and paving the road we will have to walk in the quarter-finals. And we find out that it will be an Italian derby once again and we will face AC Milan.
The ones who have already made history against the ones who are in the process of making it, the age-old glory of San Siro against the lacerating hunger and feverishness of the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium. The Azzurri can add another page to this season's incredible storybook and give our people a new chance to dream, a new night to make our colours erupt. Eternity is there, it’s within reach, lying beyond the next 180 minutes.