Napoli are through to the Round of 16 in the Europa League after securing a comfortable 2-0 victory over FC Zurich on Thursday.
A 3-1 victory in Switzerland last week put the Azzurri in a strong position to progress, and they didn’t let things slip as Simone Verdi and Adam Ounas netted in front of a sparsely occupied Stadio San Paolo.
Napoli took control early, and Lorenzo Insigne’s lob skimmed the top corner and just fell out of Dries Mertens’ range. Zurich responded – a rare occurrence on the night – via Assan Ceesay, but he sent his free header wide of the mark.
Verdi seemed keen to make the most of a rare start, and his shot was charged down before sending the rebound glancing off the crossbar.
A Dries Mertens flick from an Insigne free-kick forced Yanick Brecher into a great save. The goalkeeper managed to push the ball past the far post while at full stretch.
Napoli’s breakthrough seemed inevitable, and it happened just before the stroke of half-time. Ounas cut in from the right and found his way past three defenders. His ball over the top reached Verdi, and the Italian fired home from the back post to give the home side the deserved advantage.
The home side nearly gave away the lead minutes after the restart when Benjamin Kololli whipped in a great cross for Salim Khelifi, only for the midfielder to fire it wide from close range.
Napoli should have been awarded a penalty when Faouzi Ghoulam was blatantly taken down by Adrian Winter, but the referee somehow opted to let play continue.
A lively Ounas saw an angled drive beaten away by Brecher’s legs as Napoli continued to push for a second goal in a match that had little to offer given the 4-1 aggregate score.
It’s no surprise the Algerian delivered the final blow with 15 minutes remaining, as he latched onto a Mertens pass and smashed it in at the near post.
There was time for Arkadiusz Milik to fire a swerving effort from distance that forced Brecher into a great save, while the night was capped off by an inexplicable miss by the Polish striker who failed to tap home an Insigne cross from just inches out.
Backups show their worth
Verdi has only made five starts in all competitions so far this season, and Ounas only four, but they both made a strong claim for more playing with their performance on Thursday.
The Italian made his presence felt by getting involved early and often, while Ounas capped his performance with a well taken goal. It was certainly a welcome sign for a Napoli side that has sometimes been lacking alternatives.
Napoli making progress in front of goal
Coming off the heels of two 0-0 draws in Serie A, Thursday’s match seemed like a perfect opportunity for Napoli to find their scoring boots.
It happened…to a certain extent.
Zurich offered little resistance, and while two goals were a welcome sight for a Napoli side struggling in front of goal, you can’t help but feel they could have secured a more emphatic scoreline – especially given Milik’s late miss.