What a way to break the record and what a place to do it. At the cavernous Stadio San Paolo where his erstwhile father-in-law Diego Maradona is still worshipped as a demi-god, Sergio Aguero ascended to greatness when he became Manchester City’s top scorer of all-time.
Aguero had stood level with 1930s star Eric Brook on 177 goals for 12 days, but it was only a matter of time before he claimed a place in history all for himself.
When the opportunity arrived in the 69th minute of his 264th appearance for City, Aguero did not let his team – or himself – down.
An absorbing Group F tie was evenly poised at 2-2 when City broke out of defence and the ball was played forward. Leroy Sane made enough of a nuisance of himself to force Elseid Hysaj to stumble and Aguero collected it 30 yards out.
Suddenly the path to goal was clear. The Argentine star drove into space and buried his shot past Pepe Reina into the bottom corner.
Maradona, father of Aguero’s ex-wife Giannina and grandfather to their son Benjamin, is revered here for inspiring Napoli to the Italian title in 1987 and 1990.
Aguero was already assured of a similar place in the hearts of City fans for his part in their two championship-winning seasons. But now his name will be officially etched into the history of the club.
His landmark goal maintained City’s 100 per cent record in the Champions League this season and sent Pep Guardiola’s side through to the knockout stage for the fifth year in a row as they became the first English club to win here in Naples.
Up to that point City had showed they can still do it the old-fashioned way on a night when the beautiful goals wouldn’t go in at first, with two corners leading to two headers from centre backs Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones.
But it wasn’t easy. It was never going to be in the imposing Stadio San Paolo against a team as good as Napoli, the Serie A leaders who have not lost here in the league since February and have only suffered three defeats in their last 24 games at home in Europe.
A young City side showed huge character in a manner that will have delighted Guardiola and sent out another ominous message to their rivals. He admitted they were ‘destroyed’ in the opening 20 minutes, but still recovered to score four times.
‘When everything is going well it’s easy. Even you and I can play,’ said Guardiola afterwards. ‘The point is how you react in bad moments and we did it really well. It was a great win for us.’
Looking to salvage their own Champions League hopes, Napoli were that little bit sharper early on and it was no surprise to see them take the lead in the 21st minute.
It was a beautifully-worked goal but perhaps a little too easy from City’s point of view. Dries Mertens played a lovely one-two on the edge of the box with Lorenzo Insigne who sliced through City’s defence and curled the ball around Ederson Moraes.
The place erupted and it was to City’s credit that they raised their game immediately.
They produced their best move of the first half which ended with Aguero’s shot being deflected inches wide of the post.
Napoli had not escaped, though. When De Bruyne delivered from the right, the ball was flicked on and Otamendi headed in at the far post for his first Champions League goal in 39 games.
It was also the defender’s second goal in three matches, as many as he had scored in the 93 before that.
He could even have had another before half-time. Ilkay Gundogan swept the ball to the back post where Otamendi miskicked in front of goal, and the ball looped up for Stones to plant a header against the bar from 15 yards.
Raheem Sterling must have thought he would score within seconds of the restart when he wriggled through but Raul Albiol got across to make a fantastic block.
Again, Napoli had only delayed City scoring for a matter of moments. Sane swung over a corner and Stones met it with another thumping header.
It hit the bar again but this time bounced down just over the line, a fact German referee Felix Brych confirmed after a few moments of uncertainty.
Now it was Napoli’s turn to raise their game. Insigne rattled the bar with a fine effort from 30 yards and the Italians were awarded a penalty on the hour mark for Sane’s late tackle on Albiol.
Jorginho kept his cool to beat Ederson from the spot and we were all square again.
Ederson made a wonderful when Jose Callejon was one on one with the keeper, and moments later Aguero struck.
There was still time for Kevin De Bruyne to set up Sterling to score a fourth right at the end, but nothing could take away from Aguero’s achievement. What a record. What a night.
FIFA President, Infantino tests positive for COVID-19
FIFA Chief, Gianni Infantino has contracted coronavirus popularly known as COVID-19, the world’s football governing body announced on Tuesday.
According to the information scooped from AFP, the 50-year-old has mild symptoms and will remain in isolation for a further 10 days.
“All people who came into contact with the FIFA President during the last few days have been informed accordingly and they are being requested to take the necessary steps,” the body said.
“FIFA sincerely wishes President Infantino a speedy recovery,” it added.
Infantino’s last public appearances was at FIFA’s Compliance Summit which ended on October 16 when all attendees were present via video.
Cases, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 in the body’s base, Switzerland, have doubled from one week to the next throughout October.
The country’s government is expected to decide Wednesday on new measures to control the spread of the virus.
The spread of the illness has cast doubt over Wednesday’s potential meeting between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the Champions League after the Juventus attacker tested positive for the illness earlier this month.
Barcelona: Real reason for Messi’s u-turn
“The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he didn’t end up keeping his word,” Messi said in an interview with Goal, released on Friday.
“I thought and we were sure that I was free. The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not and now they hold on to the fact that I did not say it before June 10 when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for the league in the middle of this shitty virus and this disease that altered all the dates.”
Messi, 33, added: “And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club… because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the 700-million-euro release clause.
“This is impossible, and then the other way was to go to trial. I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, that gave me everything since I arrived, it is the club of my life, I have made my life here.”
Messi had said he wanted to leave the club he joined as a boy after Barcelona’s humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in August.
His lawyers sent a burofax stating his intention to go for free on August 25 but Messi says he had made his feelings clear to Bartomeu many times before.
“I told the club, especially the president, that I wanted to go,” said Messi. “I’ve been telling him all year. I believed it was time to step aside.
‘Everything became difficult’
“I believed that the club needed more young people, new people and I thought my time in Barcelona was over, feeling very sorry because I always said that I wanted to finish my career here.
“It was a very difficult year, I suffered a lot in training, in games and in the dressing room. Everything became very difficult for me and there came a time when I considered looking for new goals, new horizons.
“It wasn’t because of the Champions League result against Bayern, I had been thinking about it for a long time. I told the president and the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he did not end up keeping his word.”
Despite his unhappiness, Messi insists he will give his all for Barcelona next season under their new coach Ronald Koeman, with his current contract due to expire in June next year.
Messi set to quit Barcelona
Lionel Messi has informed Barcelona that he wants to “unilaterally” terminate his contract with the Spanish giants, a club source confirmed to AFP on Tuesday.
Lawyers for the Argentina star sent Barca a fax in which they announced Messi’s desire to rescind his contract by triggering a release clause.
However, the club maintains the clause expired in June and he remains under contract until the end of the 2021 season.
“In principial, this clause expired on June 10, but the unusual nature of this season disrupted by the coronavirus opened the way for Messi to ask to be released from his contract now,” wrote Spanish sports daily Marca.
“It’s the first step towards opening negotiations over his departure, on the basis of which his release clause amounts to 700 million euros.”
According to Spanish media, Messi met with new Barca coach Ronald Koeman last week and told the Dutchman he saw himself “more out than in” the club.
“The end of the glorious era of Leo Messi at Barcelona seems to be close. After the arrival of Ronald Koeman, what looks like the exit of his friend Luis Suarez and a difficult and turbulent end to the season, Messi told Barcelona in a fax of his intention to leave the club,” said Once radio station.
Barcelona suffered a humiliating 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in Lisbon earlier this month, resulting in the dismissal of coach Quique Setien after barely six months in charge.
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