x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Reina could expand Napoli’s horizons beyond Italian borders

Napoli are riding a wave of good form and emotion as they prepare for a second straight season of Champions League football, this time with seasoned campaigners in the squad.

Pepe Reina was a little hurt after being loaned out by Liverpool, but the Spanish goalkeeper seems happy at Napoli. Carlo Hermann / AFP
Pepe Reina was a little hurt after being loaned out by Liverpool, but the Spanish goalkeeper seems happy at Napoli. Carlo Hermann / AFP

Pepe Reina put on quite a show in the 71st minute of Napoli’s win over Atalanta.

Gonzalo Higuain had just struck the opener and, at the other end of the field, Reina celebrated with more than just a firmly clenched fist. He cavorted about his own penalty area, exhorting the San Paolo loyalists to up the volume.

Once Napoli had scored a second, maintaining their 100 per cent start to the Serie A season, the Neapolitans with whom he communed would reflect this hard-fought might not have come about without Reina’s superb reflex save from German Denis, at 0-0.

Reina embodied the rush of adrenalin which is carrying Napoli towards Wednesday night’s Champions League meeting with Borussia Dortmund.

The form of their domestic assignments, the next of which is Sunday’s trip to AC Milan, has boosted them and there is an impatience to taste again Europe’s foremost club competition.

Napoli’s last ride in the Champions League, which ended with a rollercoaster last-16 final defeat to Chelsea 18 months ago, was exhilarating for neutrals, let alone some of the continent’s most animated fans, who suffered a heartsore 20 years in between the last time Napoli were European contenders and the current high.

Reina, who joined Napoli in the summer, can empathise. He too has missed the Champions League, a competition in which, at his former club, Liverpool, participation used to be assumed.

When the Spaniard arrived there, in 2005, Liverpool were European champions. In his second season, he helped them to the final. By the time he left, deemed too heavy a burden on the Anfield wage bill and a little hurt to be let go, Liverpool were falling short of even the Europa League.

Reina also embodies a quality that should give this Napoli an edge over the version of two years ago: Experience.

In 2011/12, they had Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi up front. The sales of those two strikers have given the club the means to invest in seasoned Champions League campaigners, which Lavezzi and Cavani were not.

Reina is, and Higuain, Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon were part of the Real Madrid who reached the semi-finals of the competition in both the past two seasons.

The new head coach, Rafa Benitez rightly styles himself a specialist in negotiating continental collisions.

Against the Bundesliga leaders, Dortmund, Wednesday’s is an especially appetising one.