Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Higuain prepares for fiery reception in Naples

Published:Friday | March 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Higuain

MILAN (AP):

Gonzalo Higuain will face the wrath like that of a scorned lover when he returns to Napoli for the first time since his move to bitter rivals Juventus.

The love Napoli fans had for Higuain swiftly turned to hatred following his transfer for an Italian-record US$100 million after scoring 36 goals last season to break a 66-year-old Serie A record.

This is the first chance Napoli fans have had to vent their animosity at their former hero, as they were banned from attending the reverse fixture for security reasons. Higuain's reception is expected to include a barrage of whistles and insults.

"I don't know what kind of welcome he will get," Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said.

"Normally, the Napoli fans are very generous. There have been moments of anger, but those derived from the jealousy of those who felt a bit betrayed."

With 71 league goals in 104 Serie A matches for Napoli in the past three seasons, Higuain's popularity in Naples was beginning to approach that of Diego Maradona, his fellow Argentine who led Napoli to its only two league titles in 1987 and 1990.

When the transfer was announced in July, Napoli fans publicly threw their Higuain shirts, banners, and scarves into the trash.

All this adds spice to one of the most fiercely contested fixtures in Italy, which will be played twice in quick succession. The league match on Sunday is followed three days later by the return leg of their Italian Cup semi-final.

Security has been stepped up, and it is partly down to safety fears that Juventus are not staying in Naples between the fixtures.

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon hopes all the focus will stay on the pitch.

"Higuain will be honoured by Sarri's words, but there is a match to be played, a post-match to manage well," Buffon said. "Napoli-Juventus is too important an advert for Italian football to get lost in small or paltry matters, which don't help anyone."