Spirited Napoli crash out of Europe
NAPLES - Real Madrid overcame an energised Napoli performance to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The 1-3 (2-6 agg.) scoreline flattered the reigning champions as the home side caused the visitors all kinds of problems in an entertaining tie.
In an action-packed first half, dominated by the hosts, Napoli created numerous opportunities before Belgian Dries Mertens deservedly put them ahead on 24 minutes with a well-taken finish. The Italian side could easily have doubled their lead but for some wasteful finishing and the goalpost coming to Madrid keeper Kaylor Navas’ rescue as Mertens was denied in his search for a second.
The Azzurri would soon live to regret their missed chances in the first half as Madrid captain Sergio Ramos headed home two goals in quick succession to effectively put the game beyond Napoli. Ramos, who has a useful habit of coming to his side’s rescue in important games, took advantage of some sloppy Neapolitan marking from corners to extinguish the hopes of the some 50,000 home fans who had turned out at the Stadio San Paolo.
Napoli’s misery was compounded as Madrid-born striker Álvaro Morata added a third in stoppage time when compatriot Pepe Reina could only parry Cristiano Ronaldo’s initial shot into the path of a grateful Morata.
In what was ultimately a successful night for the visitors, Cristiano Ronaldo was left frustrated as his goal drought in Europe extended to six matches. A potentially concerning statistic for Zenedine Zidane as his team enter the business end of the competition.
Despite the unflattering scoreline, Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri had a positive outlook on his side’s display, “I have the sensation we are not very far away from their standard.”
“We made life very difficult for a very strong team, even though we had several young players on the pitch.”
“They are a young squad with a bright future ahead of them.”
Sarri’s team will host struggling Catone in their next outing on Sunday as they look to put this result behind them and focus on the league.