October 12, 2017 / 10:55 AM / 10 months ago

Hamsik eyes Maradona's record as Napoli visit Roma

MILAN (Reuters) - Napoli captain Marek Hamsik will have a chance to equal Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club and put Slovakia’s painful World Cup elimination behind him when they visit AS Roma in Serie A on Saturday.

FILE PHOTO - Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifications - Europe - England vs Slovakia - London, Britain - September 4, 2017 Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik acknowledges the crowd as he is substituted REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Napoli lead Serie A with a maximum 21 points, and have blasted 25 goals in the process, after winning their first seven games but Saturday’s match at the Stadio Olimpico will be by far their sternest test so far.

Apart from the impressive 4-1 win at Lazio, Napoli have only faced teams who would normally expect to finish in the middle or lower half of the table — Verona, Atalanta, Bologna, Benevento, SPAL and Cagliari.

Roma themselves have won five of their six league matches, including an impressive 2-0 win at AC Milan in their last outing, making the fixture the highlight of a weekend which also features the first Milan derby of the season.

Hamsik is now in his 11th season at Napoli, who have managed two second and two third-place finishes in the last five seasons and are widely regarded as playing the most entertaining football in Serie A.

The 30-year-old Slovak midfielder has scored 114 competitive goals during that time — one short of Maradona’s total during his seven-year spell between 1984 and 1991 which saw Napoli win their only two titles.

Hamsik was left bitterly disappointed at Slovakia’s World Cup elimination on Tuesday. Although they finished second in their group, they had the worst record among the nine runners-up in the European groups and missed out on the playoffs.

“We finished second in a difficult group and our performances deserved at least a place in the playoffs,” he said. “In the end, it all boiled down to what happened in the other groups and we missed out.”

Napoli also won their last five league matches of last season and their form has suggested they could finally break the stranglehold of Juventus, winners of the last six Serie A titles.

“Seven victories in seven matches is something incredible,” Hamsik said. “This is the strongest and nicest team in which I have played because we are aware of our strengths and that we can fight for the title until the end.”

As with last season’s match, tickets have not been sold to residents of the Naples region in a bid to avoid crowd trouble at what has often been a volatile fixture.

Juventus, joint second, host fourth-placed Lazio, who surprisingly beat them 3-2 in the season-opening Supercup match.

The weekend finishes with Inter, level with Juventus on 19 points, meeting AC Milan at the San Siro.

Despite spending more than 200 million euros (179.41 million pounds) on new signings in the transfer window, Milan have lost three times already and another defeat could send them into crisis mode.

Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis

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