Victory over Manchester City was not enough to guarantee Napoli progress to the Champions League knockout stage, but it was enough to spark significant celebrations across the city and the rest of Italy. Few had expected Napoli to have their fate in their own hands at this stage of a group featuring City, Bayern Munich and Villarreal. "Even a piece of marble would have given in to the emotion," writes Maurizio Crosetti in La Repubblica of a mad night at the Stadio San Paolo.
Napoli's opponents, after all, had been not only the Premier League leaders but also one of the most expensively assembled ensembles the world has ever seen. It was a point that the Italian press were keen to linger on as they looked back on the night's events. "That City may be rich," notes Luigi Garlando in Wednesday morning's Gazzetta dello Sport, "But the city of Naples tonight is far richer – with joy and with dreams."
"Sometimes miracles do happen," proclaims Il Mattino, while Fabrizio Bocca in La Repubblica also reflects on the unlikeliness of such a scenario. "At this point Napoli ought to have been dead and buried in the notorious Group A, which everyone back at the draw in August greeted as unfortunate and simply insurmountable for [Walter] Mazzarri's Napoli," he says. "Sometimes you need to go at that wall of scepticism around you with a pick axe. Napoli did just that, savaging the team of the moment, City, who have been trotting around England and Europe with all these great champions and with a €250m hole in their finances – created in just one year."
Indeed, for all their spending, there was widespread agreement that City had been a rather underwhelming proposition. "English TV must have a system that speeds up the images when they broadcast Premier League games," writes Marco Ansaldo in La Stampa. "There is no other way to explain why the Manchester City we've seen running on TV all season were instead only walking, with a slowness of step, passing and thoughts that surprised us."
That sentiment is reflected in Gazzetta's ratings, where Roberto Mancini receives five out of 10 for his performance as manager. "Having disembarked in Naples as a new footballing pope, Mancini leaves as a cardinal," reflects Sebastiano Vernazza. "Too much possession just for the sake of it." His colleague Garlando adds: "Manchester [City], strengthened by the €910m spent by Sheikh Mansour, dictated the play for a long time, but often with the presumptuousness of [the] well-to-do: their attitude in possession was leisurely and fanciful."
But more than City's negatives, of course, they were keen to dwell on the positives for a Napoli side who were playing in the third tier as recently as the 2005-06 season. "Who would have dreamed of such a thing, five years ago?" exclaims Stefano Agresti in Corriere dello Sport. "A madman, maybe. Or perhaps not even him." In Il Giornale, Marcello Di Dio says: "In one evening Napoli transformed themselves from the ugly duckling of the group into a beautiful swan ready to open its wings."
Back in La Repubblica, meanwhile, Crosetti believes Mazzarri's side should be proud of their football heritage. "Mazzarri should not be offended if he hears people talking about his team playing 'Italian style'," says Crosetti, referencing how Napoli allowed City to keep so much possession. "Through history, this approach has led to many triumphs – World Cups, Champions Leagues – even against opponents who seemed unbeatable. Napoli is the modern interpreter of this tradition. They don't use catenaccio, but they know how to close themselves up and then inject some venom."