Memory of Maradona evoked as Napoli thrash Ajax 6-1, Latest Football News - The New Paper

Memory of Maradona evoked as Napoli thrash Ajax 6-1

AMSTERDAM - Diego Maradona is never far from the minds of Napoli and after their 6-1 drubbing of Ajax Amsterdam away in the Champions League on Tuesday, coach Luciano Spalletti was quick to invoke the memory of the club icon.

"We played a great game. We have shown what we are capable of. Even Maradona would have been proud of us," said the Napoli coach after the runaway win that ensured a 100 per cent record in Group A at the halfway stage of the group phase campaign.

Napoli now have an opportunity to clinch a berth in next year's knockout phase when they host Ajax in the return game in the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium next week.

"We have an excellent chance to advance in the Champions League. What would make that achievement even more special is the quality of the opponents in the group. Ajax remains a great club," added Spalletti, whose side have scored 13 goals in three games after also beating Rangers 3-0 away and Liverpool 4-1 at home.

Ajax took an early lead on Tuesday but once Napoli equalised, they looked unstoppable.

"When you concede a goal quite quickly here in a churning stadium, it's not easy to give an answer right away, but my players reacted great. The goal didn't affect our game in any way," the coach told a post-match news conference.

Napoli's Champions League exploits come on top of an unbeaten start to the Serie A season, where they share the lead with Atalanta.

They are chasing a first league title since the pair they won in 1987 and 1990 when Maradona was at his peak and Spalletti made clear this was not far from his mind.

"One match does not change your life. It was an excellent performance. It's very nice to win like this, but now we have to go back to thinking about the next game, there are teams in Serie A that are doing very well," he said, quickly turning the focus to the weekend's clash away at Cremonese.

Ajax blamed the sale of key players in the close season for their record European loss.

Coach Alfred Schreuder and captain Dusan Tadic said Ajax were struggling after losing the likes of Antony, Lisandro Martinez, Ryan Gravenberch and Sebastien Haller in the summer and that they lacked cohesion and confidence.

"We have seven or eight new players. When you lose that many players, it gets a bit difficult," said Tadic, who was sent off and misses next week's return clash in Naples. "Then you need more matches to get a rhythm into the team."

Ajax, with three points from their opening three games, are in danger of missing out on next year's knockout stages and Schreuder said it was clear the personnel changes were having an impact on the side.

"In recent weeks we have not made any progress in our game," he added. "We are too restless in phases. That certainly worries me, but all we can do is indicate how things can be improved."

Tuesday's defeat was not only the Dutch club's heaviest defeat in European competition but also a third loss in four matches in all competition.

"I certainly didn't expect this. I knew that Napoli could play good football and had great courage and that we therefore had to show courage and guts too. We didn't. Certainly not on the ball," added Schreuder.

"This is a blow to all of us. That is clear. Napoli is a fantastic team full of confidence. We don't have that at the moment. We conceded the goals too cheaply, and that is unworthy of Ajax." - REUTERS

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