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Mancini out to silence Napoli

THE crumbling, rust-ridden Stadio San Paolo is as far from the gleaming super stadiums and polished elite of the Champions League as is possible to imagine, but bitter experience has taught Roberto Mancini the dangers of under-estimating Naples.

Having endured a World Cup semi-final defeat with host nation Italy against Argentina at Italia 90, the Manchester City manager has previous when it comes to Napoli's intimidating 60,000-capacity arena, and he knows that his team's Champions League ambitions rest on the outcome of tonight's Group A fixture.

A victory will take City into the knockout stages and, while a draw would tee up a nervous encounter against Bayern Munich at Eastlands in two weeks' time, defeat will leave the richest club in the world preparing to have their Thursday nights taken up by the Europa League in the new year, just as Premier League title ambitions begin to dominate the agenda.

"It's clear that we want to win in Naples for this reason (avoiding the Europa League)," Mancini said. "But we know it will be difficult. We want to go through in the Champions League because, as a team, we want to play in the Champions League.

"Our target for our first year in the Champions League is to get to the second stage. Now we have a chance, with two games to go.

"I'm of the opinion that the last game in the group will be important. That is clear if we do not win in Naples. But if we win, it is finished."

After experiencing a chastening welcome to the Champions League with a 1-1 draw against a vibrant Napoli at the Etihad Stadium in September, Mancini's team must stifle the threat of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik at the same time as overcoming the passionate support inside the San Paolo.

With visiting fans from Bayern Munich and Liverpool being involved in stabbing incidents while visiting Naples in the past 12 months, official warnings from City for their supporters to be vigilant in the city perhaps led to only 900 tickets of a 2,500 allocation being sold for the game.

Mancini has spoken of the unique atmosphere of the Neapolitan 'tifosi', however, and the greeting afforded to his team at the airport, with flags and flares being unleashed, prompted defender Micah Richards to tweet: "Wow, just arrived in Naples! Hostile isn't the word! Geeezeeee."

Napoli have not lost at home in European competition for 17 years -- a run disrupted by several seasons outside Serie A -- but Mancini insists that, with City averaging more than three goals a game in the Premier League, his team will set out to end the home side's lengthy unbeaten run.

Mancini, who claimed that City fans will not have problems in this "beautiful city", said: "We will go there to win, always. I think for us it is important to have this mentality. We can't change the mentality for one game.

"In football, you can lose sometimes. This can happen, but we want to go there and play our football and show that Manchester City is a very good football team. It is not easy for us and this is the worst (hardest) group, but I think at this moment we are in a good position. If we lose, our season is not finished."

Rested for City's Europa League tie against Juventus in Turin last December, Mario Balotelli is set to play in Italy with City for the first time since leaving Inter Milan in August 2010.

The Italian forward suffered racist abuse in away games throughout Italy during his time at Inter and has been involved in controversy in Naples, with local police interviewing the 20-year-old two months ago during an investigation into the activities of the Camorra, the Naples mafia.

Despite the potential for off-field distractions, however, Mancini insists he has no concerns over Balotelli should he be involved tonight.

Mancini said: "I don't think about the crowd reaction. Mario has played in Naples maybe 10 times, but for him, every game for City is important. Now it is different because he plays for us for the first time in Italy in Naples. But the fans in Italy know and understand that Mario can be an important player for the national team. He has improved a lot this season and is making really good progress. I have helped him, but Mario has to keep doing this."

Balotelli is likely to start on the bench tonight, with Mancini favouring Sergio Aguero as his lone striker.

The Argentine, son-in-law of Napoli icon Diego Maradona, is expected to be feted by home fans as a result of his Maradona connection, but Aguero insists he will not feel undue pressure because of this added focus.

He said: "I will not be nervous. I will enjoy playing on this pitch. Maradona did very well here and I will just think of him doing well, but the fact that Diego is an Argentinian player will probably help me.

"In the past, he told me everything about Napoli and I saw on TV all he did for them and how important he was for the fans.

"I couldn't speak to him in the last few days because of what happened to his mum (who died on Saturday). I send best wishes to him."


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