Diego Maradona gives Napoli team talk ahead of Real Madrid UCL clash
Pepe Reina has revealed that Napoli legend Diego Maradona gave the side a team talk before their Champions League game against Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Maradona, who inspired Napoli to two Serie A titles during his time at the club, was at the Santiago Bernabeu for the round-of-16 first leg, which Madrid went on to win 3-1.
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis had invited the Argentina great to speak to the players in the dressing room, and Reina confirmed his presence ahead of kickoff.
"He came down to the changing room and gave us encouragement," Reina told Onda Cero. "He said that the city of Naples expected success from its team and that we had to do it for them. We knew the importance of this tie for our fans."
Napoli had taken an eighth-minute lead but were quickly pegged back by Karim Benzema and the defending champions ended up winning thanks to goals from Toni Kroos and Casemiro.
Napoli's defeat was the club's first since Oct. 29 when Juventus beat them in Serie A and Maurizio Sarri's side now face a tough challenge ahead when they host Madrid at the San Paolo on March 7 in the return leg.
"We faced a great Real Madrid and we have to congratulate them," Reina said. "Things didn't go well, not because of our deficiencies, but because of Real Madrid's merit, they played a complete game. They are firm favourites, but this is not over. The tie is still open."
History suggests that Madrid will seal a place in the next round in Italy. The La Liga leaders have progressed from each of their last eight Champions League ties in the round of 16 when they have won the first leg, while Napoli have been eliminated on each of the previous four occasions that they have lost the opening leg of a round-of-16 tie in European competition.
"We know it's going to be difficult but we will try," Reina said. "There are still 90 minutes remaining at the San Paolo stadium. It's going to be a beautiful game at the San Paolo, Real can expect a warm night.
"With the warmth of our stadium, we will be 11 brave men who have nothing to lose. We have to believe we can turn the tie around because we can beat Madrid 2-0 at home."
Reina added that the loss will not affect his team, who sit third in Serie A, nine points adrift of leaders Juventus, and play away at Chievo on Sunday.
"We had not lost since October and this defeat is not going to bring us down," he said. "We have to analyse what went wrong and work on the things we can improve on."
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.