ROME, March 8 Napoli's flamboyant president Aurelio Di Laurentiis praised his coach Maurizio Sarri and denied there had ever been problems between the two after his side's Champions League exit.
Di Laurentiis, a prominent Italian film producer, had no complaints about his the team after they lost 3-1 at home to Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie on Tuesday and were eliminated 6-2 on aggregate.
His comments were a contrast to the first leg three weeks ago when he bitterly criticised their performance.
Napoli took a first-half lead in Tuesday's match and looked capable of overturning the two-goal deficit when they hit the post but fell apart after halftime as the title-holders scored three times.
"Even though the result was the same as the first leg, I wasn't disappointed like I was in Madrid," Di Laurentiis told reporters.
"It was an exemplary first half, and the team gave everything in the second half, but Real are Real. Playing against the best team in the world has been a great success for us."
He denied Italian media reports after the first leg that he had fallen out with Sarri and that the coach, who has turned Napoli into Serie A's most entertaining and highest-scoring team, could leave at the end of the season.
"There has never been an friction with Sarri, what happened was that I said after the first leg that team had looked deflated and unmotivated," he said.
"I have always spoken of Sarri as a football connoisseur and an excellent coach."
Sarri, a former bank worker, is in his second season as Napoli coach, having led them to the runners-up spot in Serie A last term. They are currently third in the table, two points behind AS Roma and 10 adrift of leaders Juventus.
He said Tuesday's performance had given the team confidence, despite the scoreline.
"I have the sensation we are not far away from their standard," said the coach. "We made life very tough for a very strong team, even though we had several young players on the pitch."
"If we look at the game and forget the bitterness of the result, there is reason to be hopeful for the future."
"They are a young squad with a bright future ahead of them. The last step is the hardest but I feel we can do it." (Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)