Rome (AFP) – Dries Mertens fired Napoli to the Italian Cup final on Saturday after netting the goal which gave his side a 2-1 aggregate semi-final win over Inter Milan and made him the club’s all-time top scorer.
Napoli will face Juventus in Wednesday’s final in Rome thanks to Belgium forward Mertens, who slotted home his 122nd goal for Napoli four minutes before half-time to make the score 1-1 on the night and give them overall victory after a 1-0 first-leg win at the San Siro in February.
Christian Eriksen had levelled the tie for Inter straight from a corner in the second minute and the away side continued to dominate the first half, but Mertens ended a lightning counter-attack to put the hosts through at the Stadio San Paolo.
Mertens, 33, overtakes Marek Hamsik and moves seven clear of Diego Maradona, who scored 115 goals in all competitions and won two Serie A titles and the UEFA Cup over his seven tumultuous years in southern Italy.
Although there were no fans in the stands at the San Paolo, public broadcaster RAI reported that a small number of Napoli fans that had gathered outside the San Paolo set off fireworks throughout half-time in celebration of Merten’s goal.
Mertens moved to Napoli from PSV Eindhoven in 2013 and has become so settled in Naples that fans have nicknamed him ‘Ciro’, a hugely common Neapolitan name.
Napoli will take on Juve at the Italian capital’s Stadio Olimpico after Maurizio Sarri’s side squeezed past AC Milan on away goals following a 0-0 draw in Turin on Friday, Italy’s first competitive football match since the country become the global coronavirus epicentre.
As with Friday’s match, Napoli and Inter players gathered around the centre circle for a minute’s silence in tribute to the more than 34,000 people who have died in Italy as a result of COVID-19.
There will likely be a big television audience for two of Italy’s best-supported clubs.
According to Italian media, some 8.3 million people tuned into RAI to watch Friday’s goalless draw at Juve’s Allianz Stadium, the largest TV audience for a football match this season.
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