Padraig Whelan Date: 22nd February 2018 at 8:54pm
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A 2-0 win for Napoli away to RB Leipzig wasn’t enough to advance in the Europa League but they do exit the competition with their heads held high.

After widespread criticism for their first leg team selection and performance, the Partenopei were much improved in Germany, although Piotr Zielinski and Lorenzo Insigne’s goals couldn’t prevent a 3-3 away goals aggregate exit.

Napoli started the game with more purpose and positivity than they had a week ago and could have pulled back the early goal they craved on 10 minutes but Marek Hamsik couldn’t turn home from close range following a Dries Mertens pass.

Minutes later, they were almost behind to a goal which would have killed the tie off when a Marcel Sabitzer strike was deflected onto the woodwork via the head of defender Lorenzo Tonelli.

Following a lively opening half hour in which both sides had their moments, the Italians hit the front on 33 minutes when an Insigne shot was parried directly into the path of Zielinski who found the empty net and leave his side needing two in the second half.

Mario Rui and Zielinski both had efforts to add to the lead in the second half but neither man’s attempt every truly troubled Peter Gulacsi, who wasn’t tested as much as Maurizio Sarri would have wanted.

In fact, it wasn’t until the final four minutes when he was worked again and once more, the Hungarian was beaten to set up a grandstand finish as he volleyed in a perfect Jose Callejon cross from the right flank.

Unfortunately for Napoli, it was a case of too little too late, both in terms of the goal and their overall performance in the tie, and although they exit Europe, the silver lining for the Serie A leaders is that it does leave them free to fully focus on ending their long wait for Scudetto success.