Football: Hamsik chases Maradona record as Real date looms

Rome, Italy | AFP |

Marek Hamsik says he remains in awe of Argentina legend Diego Maradona but the Slovakia midfielder won't hold back as the former Napoli hero's 115-goal club record comes into sight.

 Hamsik and Dries Mertens struck memorable hat-tricks in a 7-1 rout at Bologna on Saturday as Napoli boosted their hopes of a first title since Maradona inspired the southerners to the second of their two titles in 1990. The Slovakian international's first Serie A hat-trick took his Napoli tally to 111 goals in nine seasons, only four short of the record Maradona set during a successful but controversial spell in 1984-2001.
The big win, with Mertens grabbing his third hat-trick of the season, left Napoli six points shy of leaders Juventus after the Turin giants' 1-0 win over Inter Milan.
But Napoli are up to second and morale is high a week before the Italians face Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Maradona's name remains inextricably linked to Napoli but Hamsik will not let sentiment get in the way as he eyes the great Argentine's 25-year-old record.
"It was my first hat-trick in Serie A and I'm delighted," Hamsik, who sports a mohican style haircut and numerous body tattoos, said. 
"Maradona is unique, there are no players like him, but I want to overtake his record. I could target it this year but if not I will target it in the future."
With nine goals in 23 appearances -- seven less than Serie A's surprising new leading scorer Mertens -- and 15 games remaining in the league Hamsik should have time to finish his season on a personal high.
But for the 29-year-old Napoli's title push takes priority: "It was crucial for us to win, especially after our (1-1) slip-up at Palermo last week.
"We wanted to score as many goals as possible. We started really well, in six minutes we'd already made the difference."
Napoli are the most prolific scorers in Serie A, banging in 55 goals in 23 games
And coach Maurizio Sarri hasn't even welcomed Arkadiusz Milik back yet. 
The Polish striker hit four league goals in a handful of opening league games before succumbing to a cruciate knee ligament injury while on international duty last October.
He is being primed to return in time for the daunting trip to Real next week.
"What a game! I can't wait to play against Genoa," Milik wrote on Facebook.
Napoli are now unbeaten in 12 consecutive Serie A games and 17 matches in all competitions.
But for Naples-born former Italy defender Fabio Cannavaro, who played for Napoli at the start of his career before spending three seasons with Real in 2006-2009, they will soon face the acid test. 
"Napoli's visit to the Bernabeu will be a test of their maturity," Cannavaro told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"No one can question Real's international pedigree but it will be interesting to see how Napoli's game stands up."

Monday, February 6th 2017
by Justin DAVIS

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