Napoli stun Wolfsburg in Europa League

Captain Marek Hamsik scored two of his side's four goals


ROME - Napoli provided manager Rafa Benitez with a welcome birthday present on Thursday evening, dismantling Wolfsburg 4-1 away, at the fortress that is the Volkswagen Arena. Goals from Gonzalo Higuain, Marco Gabbiadini and a brace from the Slovakian Marek Hamsik have given the Italian side an almost insurmountable lead heading into the second leg.

 The victory is particularly impressive given that Wolfsburg have been riding high in recent months and find themselves second in the Bundesliga, only 10 points behind leaders Bayern Munich, having lost just one of their previous 26 games. Former Chelsea stars Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Schurrle, have been in sparkling form for the Germans but could do little to halt the Napoli barrage on the night.

 Gonzalo Higuain set the ball rolling for the Neapolitans on the 15-minute mark with an instinctive finish and despite suspicions of handball referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz awarded the goal. The Argentinean striker turned provider just seven minutes later, carving open Wolfsburg’s defence and Marek Hamsik made no mistake with the finish.

 Sloppy defending led to Napoli’s third goal and Hamsik’s second of the night, with Wolfsburg gifting the ball to Jose Callejon on the edge of their area. The former Real Madrid man calmly squared to his captain who slotted the ball into an empty net and effectively ended the tie.

 However, for the disbelieving Wolfsburg faithful, the situation was about to deteriorate even further. Just four minutes after replacing the two-goal hero Hamsik, Marco Gabbiadini rose highest to nod in Lorenzo Insigne’s cross and make it 4-0 to the visitors. Ex-Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner grabbed a goal back for Wolfsburg but it was a case of too little too late.

 In contrast to previous seasons, the Europa League is of vital importance to many teams this year. If the winner of Europe’s premier club competition, the UEFA Champions League qualifies for next season through their domestic league, then the Europa League winners earn a coveted spot in the draw for 2015-16. 

 With Napoli currently sitting in fourth position in Serie A, seven points behind Roma who currently occupy the final Champions League place, the Europa League may present their best chance of qualification. Certainly it will be more than a tall order for Wolfsburg to rescue this tie in Naples, with Benitez’s men having already secured a firm foot in the semi-final draw.

 The only other Italian team left in the competition, Fiorentina also enjoyed a positive result. The Florence-based team rescued a 1-1 draw thanks to Khouma Babacar’s last minute acrobatic effort away at Dynamo Kiev. The solitary away goal will ensure that Fiorentina have the advantage in the return leg to be held at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in a week’s time.