Swansea City 0, Napoli 0: Boring Pragmatism, Stellar Keepers

Stu Forster

An energetic display from Swansea kept Napoli from generating many chances, but the partenopei were able to see out the tie harmlessly and should feel confident heading in to the home leg next week.

With a chance at a European trophy beckoning at the end of a long slog of Europa League knockout matchups, Napoli hoped to get the campaign off to a roaring start. The result wasn't so much that, but Rafa Benitez and his squad will take it and go back to the friendly confines of the San Paolo looking to secure the win.

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The match opened in end-to-end style, with both sides racing up and down the pitch creating chances in droves. Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik had good early shots for Napoli, and Wilifred Bony created some nervous moments in front of Napoli's goal, including forcing an absolutely fantastic save from Rafael. The Brazilian keeper had to go across his body and up, and was just able to bat away a ball that was destined for the top corner of goal. It was really something to behold.

Napoli would back off the throttle a bit before too long, letting Swansea come at them and hopefully run themselves in to the ground while they were at it. That lead to some tension among Napoli fans as Henrique Buss struggled to contain Bony in any meaningful way, and Nathan Dyer beat Anthony Reveillere up and down the pitch. Fortunately, Rafael was well up to the task, and he had one huge moment after another throughout the first half.

The whole half felt very much like the first half of the away leg against Roma in the Coppa: lots of possession for the hosts with Napoli trying to just soak up pressure. This time, though, Napoli didn't make stupid mistakes to give up goals, which is a vast improvement over that performance. They didn't play especially pretty football, but they did well with a second-unit defensive line to keep the match level.

Unfortunately, a knee injury late in the half (that drew the wrath of the commentators who apparently felt he was faking it) would put Rafael out of the match at halftime, forcing Rafa Benitez to use his first substitution to bring in Pepe Reina.  Still, just that one half of action did a lot to aid Rafael's case as Napoli's long-term keeper, and even that he's deserving of more playing time this season.

Napoli came out on the front foot in the second half, but couldn't make anything of a few chances early in the half. Of interesting note is that Swansea seemed well prepared for Higuain's trademark run-off-the-right-post-and-cross, with Ashley Williams consistently getting in his path and forcing him to either pull up or go further out than he's accustomed.

Napoli couldn't take full control of the match, though they were more involved than in the first half. Reina was called in to action several times, and acquitted himself quite well, especially on a shot from Wayne Routledge in the 75th minute that saw him dive to his left to stop a shot from outside the box.

The match bogged down pretty quickly after that, with Napoli looking fairly content to see out a scoreless draw in the away leg of the tie. That's exactly what they got, though it took some immense goalkeeping by both Rafael and Reina to get the job done.

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In the end, Napoli will probably be happy with the result, with the San Paolo representing a marked advantage for the return leg. A second-unit defense was able to weather what was at times an incredible storm from Swansea, and the side have to feel confident that they can see things out from here. Jorginho was clearly missed in midfield, but with a proper back line and the home crowd behind them, this tie should be as good as won as long as Napoli don't get overconfident.

Please don't get overconfident.

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