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Napoli manager Walter Mazzarri hails super-sub Alessio Zerbin after reaching Italian Supercup final in Riyadh

RIYADH: Walter Mazzarri has hailed substitute Alessio Zerbin for helping Napoli overcome Fiorentina 3-0 to earn a coveted place in the EA SPORTS FC Italian Supercup final in Riyadh.

The Napoli manager brought the 24-year-old attacker off the bench with nine minutes remaining of the Supercup semifinal and his side 1-0 up from Giovanni Simeone’s goal at Al-Awwal Park.

Zerbin made an immediate impact, stabbing home at the back post in the 84th minute and then —returning to the field after treatment required from scoring that goal — blasting home into the bottom corner just two minutes later.

With the reigning Lega Serie A champions determined to add the Supercup to the trophy room at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Mazzarri was emphatic in his praise of Zerbin.

Mazzarri said: “Sometimes we underestimate young players at home, and we go looking abroad, however Zerbin is gifted and a modern player. He sometimes rushes and should gain in self-confidence, but he will have a bright future if he keeps training and improving where he needs.”

Napoli now look forward to the Supercup final on Monday, Jan. 22, when they will play the winner of the Inter versus Lazio semifinal on Friday.

Both matches take place at Al-Awwal Park and begin at 10 p.m. Saudi Arabia time.

Napoli goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini, who said it would mean “a lot” to win the Supercup final, added: “We were all very happy for Zerbin. He is a young player who puts in a lot of effort in training, and it is only right that he got the chance to score tonight.

“Napoli are a strong team with many strong players, so some people have to accept sitting on the bench for the team. The important thing is that we are always united as a group, and we give our best.”

Napoli took the lead in the 22nd minute on Thursday night when a delightful through-ball by Juan Jesus was drilled into the bottom corner by the right foot of Giovanni Simeone from a tight angle. The Argentine striker — the son of Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone — took the most delicate of touches to set himself for the shot before finishing.

On the stroke of half-time, Fiorentina spurned a golden opportunity to go level when Jonathan Ikone was tripped in the box by Mario Rui. The resultant penalty, however, saw the French forward’s left-footed effort soar over the bar.

Fiorentina manager Vincenzo Italiano admitted it was a turning point and said: “He’s a good penalty taker and usually buries them. But unfortunately, it wasn’t the case today.”

Italiano added: “I feel disappointed knowing that we could have performed better and come out at the end with a positive result.”

The end, however, belonged to Zerbin, who scored his first goal by converting Leo Ostigard’s headed flick-on from Piotr Zielinkski’s outswinging corner kick, and then sprinted clear to strike the cleanest of right-footed shots into the bottom corner.

The 36th edition of the historic Supercoppa Italiana marks the fourth time that the prestigious competition is being held in Saudi Arabia.

For the first time, the Supercup features four teams — the winners and runners-up of Lega Serie A and the Coppa Italia — instead of previous editions where the winners played a one-off match.