Koulibaly and Napoli return to San Siro after racism storm

Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly reacts after receiving a red card during the Serie A match against Inter Milan at the San Siro stadium in Milan. (AFP pic)

MILAN: Senegalese international Kalidou Koulibaly and Napoli return to the San Siro on Saturday, a month after racism and violence overshadowed the team’s Boxing Day match against Inter Milan, for the first of a Serie A and Coppa Italia double-header against AC Milan.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side play an Italian league game against AC Milan this weekend before returning to the San Siro next Tuesday for a Coppa quarter-final showdown against Gennaro Gattuso’s side.

Franco-Senegalese defender Koulibaly was targeted by monkey noises and racist chants during the 1-0 defeat to Inter on Dec 26 and has not played since having been hit with a two-match ban for sarcastically applauding referee Paolo Mazzoleni.

Ancelotti has warned that he will lead his team off the pitch the next time one of his players is subject to continued racist abuse.

The game was also overshadowed by the death of 39-year-old ultra Inter Milan supporter Daniele Belardinelli who was killed when he was struck by a car in clashes before kick-off.

The funeral of Belardinelli, who had been banned from the San Siro between 2007 and 2017 for violence, will take place on Friday.

Five Inter Milan fans remain in prison as the investigation continues.

However Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said there would be no restrictions for Saturday’s game, either for tickets sales, or access to the stadium.

Salvini said the decision was made “focusing on common sense, the responsibility and correctness of Milan and Napoli supporters, as well as the professionalism of the police forces.”

“We do not want to remove the right to healthy fun of the vast majority of respectable fans,” said Salvini, a passionate AC Milan fan.

Salvini added: “Obviously, in case of any public order problems, I will act accordingly.”

On the pitch second-placed Napoli desperately need a win to possibly avoid falling 12 points behind unbeaten Juventus who travel to Lazio on Sunday.

Napoli have lost just one of their last 15 games against AC Milan.

AC Milan’s new Polish signing Krzysztof Piatek may be given a run-out but Gattuso could opt for him to make his debut in the Coppa Italia three days later.

Piatek – who has scored 19 goals in his first season for Genoa – replaced Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain who headed for Chelsea.

“I was an AC Milan fan as a kid, it was my dream to play here and to be working with such legends as Leonardo and Paolo Maldini,” Piatek said at his presentation Thursday.

“I will do everything I can to help AC Milan get back into the Champions League.”

Gattuso’s side occupy the final Champions League berth, ahead of Roma who are one point behind in fifth and Lazio, who are a further point behind in sixth.

Just four points separate Milan and eighth-placed Sampdoria in a tight race to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition.

Champions Juventus travel to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico to take on Lazio, who they beat 2-0 in Turin earlier in the campaign, and who have taken just a point from their last two games.

Lazio ace Ciro Immobile, who has scored 14 goals this season, insists this will be the weekend when Juventus will suffer their first defeat of the season.

“We’ve been able to beat them in recent seasons,” warned Immobile. “If we give something extra and have a bit of luck, it can be done.”

Juventus have, however, won eight of their last nine games against Lazio.

Inter Milan, in third, head for Torino after being held to a goalless draw against Sassuolo, the second of their two matches behind closed doors as punishment for the Koulibaly racist abuse.