NEWS
Thursday March 20 2014
EL: Porto punish wasteful Napoli

Napoli are out of the Europa League after wasting dozens of chances, as Porto were ruthless to win 3-2 on aggregate.

The Partenopei needed a win after losing the first leg of this Europa League Round of 16 1-0 in Portugal and had a packed-out Stadio San Paolo behind them. There was a spectacular Boca Juniors-style ticker tape choreography before kick-off and a delegation of Borussia Dortmund fans, as they are twinned with the Napoli ultras.

Christian Maggio missed out after he required emergency surgery for a collapsed lung when his chest injury was affected by the flight back from Oporto a week ago, while Rafael Cabral and Juan Camilo Zuniga were long-term absentees. Porto were forced into changes, as goalkeeper Helton’s season is over following an Achilles tendon operation and Alex Sandro was suspended in defence, while Maicon was surprisingly sent to the stands.

Rafa Benitez made several adjustments, choosing Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Goran Pandev together, while Henrique was at right-back.

In the opening two minutes Mertens had burst into space on the counter, but prodded wide as he was closed down by three different tackles. Fabiano beat away an Insigne snapshot and Faouzi Ghoulam ran on to the loose ball, but tumbled under pressure from Danilo.

The opening stages were like a siege on the Porto penalty area, as Henrique ran on to a Mertens knockdown and his angled drive flashed across the face of goal to skim the back post.

Insigne then scuffed his finish straight at the goalkeeper and Gonzalo Higuain burst through the middle of the Porto defence only to volley off target.

Napoli finally made the pressure count when Higuain went on the attack and drew away two defenders, then rolled a slide-through pass in for Goran Pandev to delicately chip Fabiano one-on-one.

That goal made the tie all square on aggregate and was the Macedonian’s first European goal since March 2011.

Insigne’s free kick was charged down by the wall and Fabiano rushed out to block Mertens’ follow-up with his chest. Jackson Martinez nodded just wide from a corner, though Pepe Reina appeared to have it covered.

Higuain also set up Mertens for a volley off the outside of his boot that was straight at the goalkeeper, then Insigne hit the side-netting after a Danilo error and Gokhan Inler’s long-range screamer was off target.

After the restart Insigne tested Fabiano from close range and from the corner Ghoulam’s curler was just over the bar.

Porto finally had a chance on 56 minutes when a free kick was glanced off the head of Carlos Eduardo to go inches past the base of the far post.

Higuain had a great opportunity to make it 2-0 when he sprung the offside trap on a ball over the top, but Fabiano performed a desperate save from point-blank range.

Insigne burst down the left with a give-and-go, but again second choice goalkeeper Fabiano was ready at the near post. The Partenopei continued to waste chances and with the 1-0 result on the night this tie would go to extra time.

A dipping Mertens strike was just wide, but Napoli were made to pay for their poor finishing, as Porto scored with their second opportunity of the game, the first effort on target. Substitute Nabil Ghilas ran on to a Fernando through ball and placed a powerful finish into the near bottom corner.

The visitors almost put the tie beyond doubt moments later, as Steven Defour smacked his shot against the base of the upright.

Napoli needed two goals to qualify for the quarter-finals, as 2-2 on aggregate would still send Porto through on away goals.

They visibly lost confidence and Ricardo Quaresma dribbled past Valon Behrami to blast an unstoppable finish into the near top corner.

Insigne trapped a long Inler ball, but was unable to dribble round Fabiano, while Jose Callejon’s header was smothered.

Duvan Zapata at least ensured Napoli avoided a home defeat, as in stoppages Callejon rolled across for him to tap in.

Napoli 2-2 Porto (2-3 agg)

Scorers: Pandev 21 (N), Ghilas 70 (P), Quaresma 76 (P), Zapata 91 (N)

Napoli: Reina; Henrique, Fernandez, Albiol, Ghoulam; Inler, Behrami; Mertens (Callejon 83), Pandev (Hamsik 68), Insigne; Higuain (Zapata 78)

Porto: Fabiano; Danilo, Mangala, Reyes, Ricardo; Carlos Eduardo (Josué 63), Fernando, Defour; Varela (Ghilas 66), Martinez, Quaresma (Lica 80)

Ref: Atkinson (ENG)

Think you know your Italian football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's tipster competition - £11,000 to be won monthly!

FOOTBALL ITALIA RELATED NEWS

TODAY'S FRONT PAGES