NAPLES – Napoli reached the Champions League knockout stages with two games to spare on Wednesday after a flamboyant 4-2 victory over Ajax maintained their 100 per cent start in this year’s competition.
Luciano Spalletti’s side have four wins from four and a perfect 12 points at the top of Group A thanks to Hirving Lozano, Giacomo Raspadori, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen, whose goals took their European tally to an incredible 17.
Nine points separate the Serie A leaders from third-placed Ajax, who can still make it through with two wins from their final two matches against Liverpool and Rangers.
“It was brilliant, the team put in some great work and we are really happy to win and go through,” said Lozano. Alfred Schreuder’s team gave a much better account of themselves than they did in the 6-1 thrashing Napoli inflicted on them in Amsterdam last week and kept the game alive until the final seconds through Davy Klaassen and Steven Bergwijn.
But they couldn’t stop an irrepressible Napoli team who are yet to lose a match this season in Italy or on the continent and had a packed Stadio Maradona dreaming that this could be their year.
Napoli got off to a typically fast start and had the capacity crowd on their feet with just three minutes on the clock, Piotr Zielinski’s dinked ball over the top guided home by Lozano’s header which left Remko Pasveer completely stranded.
Napoli in last 16
Schreuder said that his team were going to try and dominate the play despite the fearful drubbing they were subjected to in Amsterdam. And they did push to level immediately after going behind, Bergwijn forcing a good save from Alex Meret in the ninth minute before Steven Berghuis curled a great effort just wide seconds later.
Lozano almost had his second of the night in the 14th minute when he flashed a volley over the bar following a exciting burst from Kvaratskhelia, who was again in inspired form.
Georgian wing wizard Kvaratskhelia was key to Napoli doubling their lead two minutes later, sliding behind the Ajax defence and laying off to Italy forward Raspadori who crashed in his fourth goal of the Champions League campaign.
Klaassen halved the deficit shortly after the break for the spirited away side with a bullet header from Calvin Bassey’s cross. But Kvaratskhelia re-established Napoli’s two-goal lead from the penalty spot just after the hour mark, smashing home the hosts’ third after Jurrien Timber was judged to have handled Tanguy Ndombele’s shot.
By this point Osimhen had made his return from thigh injury in place of Raspadori, and the Nigeria striker would allow the home fans to breathe easily in the final minute.
Bergwijn had netted with a spot-kick of his own seven minutes previously after a harsh looking decision to penalise Juan Jesus for a foul on Brian Brobbey.
But Osimhen, who had had a goal ruled out for offside and missed a sitter just after Bergwijn’s strike, then robbed the dozing Daley Blind and rolled in an easy finish which finally decided the match. AFP
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