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Soccer: Italian Cup final reward for revived giants

Napoli, Fiorentina have both returned from ruins of bankruptcy

13 February, 18:00
Soccer: Italian Cup final reward for revived giants (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 13 - When Fiorentina face Napoli in the Italian Cup final in May it will be a match-up of two teams with similar riches-to-rags-to-riches-again stories.

Both sides are among the elite set of Italian sides to have Serie A titles in their honours cabinets. Napoli won two scudetti during Argentine great Diego Maradona's glorious 1984-1991 stint in Naples, while Fiorentina's two championships date back to the 1955-56 and 1968-69 seasons.

And both sides have returned to the top of the game after recovering from financial ruin.

Cinema producer Aurelio De Laurentiis has proven an astute chairman, steering Napoli up from the third tier of Italian football after bankruptcy in 2004, putting up the investments necessary to match his ambitions without overstretching the budget.

Fiorentina owner Diego Della Valle, the man behind the Tod's shoe empire, had to resurrect Fiorentina from even further down the Italian soccer pyramid.

The Florence side were demoted to the fourth division following a bankruptcy penalty in 2002. Both teams have lofty ambitious and have spent big on the transfer market in recent years, especially in the 2013 close season, when Napoli landed Argentina forward Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid and the Viola signed Germany striker Mario Gomez, among others.

The investments have not yet produced a third league title for either side and they are not likely to this year.

Napoli are third in Serie A, but the 13-point deficit they have with respect to leaders Juventus looks too much to make up.

De Laurentiis is not disappointed though and is giving time for Spanish coach Rafa Benitez, who took over in the summer, to work on a side that has been let down by defensive frailty in several recent league games.

"Benitez incarnates the warmth of Neapolitans in their families," De Laurentiis said Thursday.

"He's a father, a brother, and friend and unlike (former coach Walter) Mazzarri he's not afraid to change the team and use new players". Fiorentina, who have been unlucky to lose Gomez and Italy forward Giuseppe Rossi to injuries, are three points further back in Serie A in fourth place.

So the Cup final is a chance for two sides who are playing attractive attacking soccer to be rewarded with a trophy.

Napoli made the final by thrashing AS Roma 3-0 at home on Wednesday to overturn a 3-2 deficit from the first leg of the semi and prevail 5-3 on aggregate. Goals by Josè Callejon, Higuain and Jorginho kept Napoli on course to win the Cup for the fifth time, with the most recent of their four victories in the competition achieved in 2012.

Napoli were given a boost by the arrival at their San Paolo Stadium of former great Maradona, who cheered their goals heartily.

"One of the greatest nights of my career so far," Napoli's Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina said on his Twitter account, @PReina25, Thursday after the win over Roma.

"We are in the final!Lets be focus on the league now!thanks everybody!" Fiorentina beat Udinese 2-0 at home on Tuesday to win their semi-final 3-2 on aggregate.