NAPOLI 2-2 FC PORTO (EUROPA LEAGUE ROUND OF 16 – FC PORTO WIN 3-2 ON AGGREGATE)
Porto moved into the last eight of the Europa League in Naples and it was all down to finishing – Porto’s excellent finishing and Napoli’s wasteful finishing.
Napoli boss Rafael Benitez left out one of his star men in Marek Hamsik with the Slovakian benched in favour of Goran Pandev providing the support to Gonzalo Higuain up front. Porto, meanwhile, were without regular number one Hilario who was injured so Fabiano was given his opportunity.
Napoli began the game the brighter as they had to seeing as they were behind from the first leg and created an early chance. Higuain received the ball on the left and flicked it over to Pandev in the middle of the pitch. He drew Porto full back Ricardo in allowing Dries Mertens space to run into on the right. The Macedonian lofted a ball to Mertens which the Belgian winger controlled well but by the time he was in the box, he was under pressure from sides and could only shoot wide of Fabiano’s goal.
Napoli continued to press the visitors and were not allowing them any time or space. Fabiano was called into action too as he spooned away a Lorenzo Insigne shot from distance. Faouzi Ghoulam followed up and went down in the box but referee Martin Atkinson was not interested despite protestations from the full back.
Porto were struggling to get out of their own half and Napoli created a great opportunity on 14 minutes. After a spell of nice possession, Insigne switched the ball from left to right for Mertens. Full back Ricardo was all over the place and the Belgian winger was allowed to head the ball inside to an onrushing Henrique from right back who was allowed to run unchallenged into the area. The Brazilian took the ball on the half volley and sent his effort about half a yard wide of the far post. It was a warning sign for the visitors as to the dangers which Napoli posed them.
The home side got in behind Porto again just minutes later. Higuain collected the ball deep and switched it over to Ghoulam on the left. The full back laid it off to Insigne who chipped a lovely ball over to Higuain who had continued his run into the box. The Argentine had Fabiano off his line but he could only mishit his volley miles wide. It was a massive chance wasted by Napoli’s big summer signing. However, he redeemed himself just four minutes later.
Higuain was released on a Napoli breakaway but was held up with little support. He managed to keep the move alive before slipping in Pandev with a lovely through ball. The Macedonian calmly lifted the ball over the onrushing Fabiano and sent the home fans wild. It was a beautifully worked goal and a well deserved one as Napoli were the better side in the opening stages.
Porto were struggling to stamp themselves on the game and were creating very little. It was perhaps unsurprising that the maverick Ricardo Quaresma was getting a bit frustrated as evidenced by his wild attempt on goal from 30 yards. Porto were not helping themselves either as captain Eliaquim Mangala was penalised for a high foot on Raul Albiol on the edge of the box. Insigne’s free kick and follow up shot were both blocked but Mertens was the first to react and only a good stop from Fabiano stopped him from doubling Napoli’s lead.
Porto did eventually threaten though. A Quaresma corner from the right was sent to the back post and Colombian striker Jackson Martinez met it with a good header from 12 yards. His effort had Pepe Reina scrambling across his goal but the ball was comfortably wide of the goal.
Napoli continued to create opportunities in the final ten minutes of the half with long, diagonal passes causing the visitors all sorts of problems. Higuain sent a lovely ball into the area from deep which Mertens could only weakly volley at Fabiano while Insigne fired into the side netting at the near post after Danilo had practically gifted him the ball on the left. Gokhan Inler finished the first half with a speculative shot from range that was high and wide.
The second half began with Napoli playing at the same intensity and tempo as they had in the first half, looking for the crucial next goal and five minutes into the half they had a great chance. Higuain dropped deep again and this time released Mertens down the right. The Belgian winger’s cross was a high, looping one that Fabiano misjudged and presented an opportunity to Insigne at the far post. The little Italian headed it back across goal but was denied by Fabiano’s legs as he recovered from his error.
Porto were starting to get more of a foothold in the game and gave Napoli another scare just before the hour mark. Quaresma sent in a lovely in-swinging delivery which was met with a glancing header from Carlos Eduardo. Reina could only watch as the ball just went past the far post. It was a big scare for Napoli but one that didn’t deter them.
The home side began to create more opportunities and had three good chances in three minutes. First, Higuain was found from another long ball and, after turning inside Diego Reyes, fired inexplicably at Fabiano from 10 yards. Then, Pandev was found in the box by Mertens but he could only head at Fabiano before Insigne worked a lovely 1-2 with Ghoulam before firing right at the Porto goalkeeper. These misses would prove to be very costly indeed as Porto equalised minutes later.
Martinez received the ball deep and laid it off to Fernando in midfield. The striker was taken out by Valon Behrami but Atkinson played an excellent advantage as Fernando played a through ball to the unmarked substitute Nabil Ghilas. The Algerian striker kept his composure and rifled his shot past Reina from the edge of the area to get the crucial away goal for Porto.
The goal had rocked Napoli and only two minutes later, Steven Defour fired another warning that visitors had their tails up when he struck the post with toe poked effort. It almost seemed inevitable that Porto would extend their lead and they did so after 76 minutes with a brilliant goal.
Martinez had the ball on the right hand side and played it inside to Defour in the box. The Belgian flicked it back to Quaresma on the edge of the box. There did not seem much on for the winger but he weaved his way past three players before unleashing a rocket of a shot past Reina from the edge of the box. It was a superb piece of individual brilliance from Quaresma and one that practically settled the tie with Porto’s second shot on target of the night.
Napoli were stunned and Porto were now sat back and soaking up all the pressure with consumate ease. When the defence was breached, both Insigne and substitute Jose Callejon done very poorly. Porto were still a danger going forward as the impressive Ghilas made sure that Reina was still alert. Eventually, Napoli did get their second goal though.
Hamsik, on as a substitute, slipped through Callejon on the right. The Spaniard had time to pick out fellow sub Duvan Zapata in the middle and the Colombian slid in to finish of his low cross. It was a case of too little too late though as Napoli crash out of Europe.
MAN OF THE MATCH: NABIL GHILAS (FC PORTO)
Napoli: Reina, Henrique, Albiol, Fernandez, Ghoulam, Behrami, Inler (c), Mertens (Callejon 84), Pandev (Hamsik 68), Insigne, Higuain (Zapata 79)
Subs: Colombo, Reveillere, Britos, Dzemaili
Goal: Pandev, Zapata
FC Porto: Fabiano, Danilo, Reyes, Mangala (c), Ricardo, Fernando, Defour, Varela (Ghilas 66), Eduardo (Josue 63), Quaresma (Lica 81), Martinez
Subs: Kadu, Herrera, Agu, Quintero
Goal: Ghilas, Quaresma