The beginning of the visit to Marseille on Tuesday night left an uncertain, unsettled feeling in most Napoli fans' mouths. To begin with, Lorenzo Insigne, who played the full 90 against AS Roma after playing 90 minutes for Italy just a week ago, was dropped to the bench in favor of Dries Mertens. Federico Fernández took the place of injured Miguel Britos, which was less distressing than Paolo Cannavaro stepping in, but only just. With Camilo Zúñiga out, compatriot Pablo Armero took his place. In happier news, Gonzalo Higuaín started rather than Goran Pandev up top.
The majority of the first half was frustrating. If Napoli supporters had thought bubbles rising above them like in comic strips, the majority of those would've been filled with "$*!^#%!" A few more eloquent souls might have thought, "How are Napoli not already beating this rather insipid French side?"
One of the most painful moments in the first half occurred after Pepe Reina neatly saved a header from Souleymane Diawara. Reina launched the counter-attack, putting his long throw to the left for Mertens to take up the channel. The fast break left Marseille for dead, and Higuaín had a perfect opportunity to go for goal, with only Steve Mandanda to beat. Somehow, though, Pepita managed to drag his shot just wide of the post.
It's a good thing José Callejón stepped up to bail out his side before the break -- Naples may have been burning Gonzalo in effigy on Wednesday had the partenopei come away with a draw or, god forbid, a loss. The goal, in the 43rd moment, came via a well-placed ball from Fernández to Higuaín in the center (no, really, this happened). The ball bounced favorably to Higuaín, who was able to control and send over the top of the Marseille players to Callejón, racing down the left. Ziggy slipped past the Marseille defense, cut back inside, and slipped the ball between two onrushing defenders to land in the back of Mandanda's net.
When the second half started, it almost seemed as though Napoli were content to leave France with a 1-0 victory. It was Marseille that was enlivened, with the defense forced to block a shot from André-Pierre Gignac, and Dimitri Payet going wide just a minute later. Just before the hour mark, Rafa Benítez pulled Higuaín, most likely to keep him from aggravating his recent injury. But rather than replace him with the expected Pandev, it was Duván Zapata who entered.
It turned out to be an inspired substitution, as less than ten minutes after entering the pitch, Zapata had his first goal in a Napoli shirt. Hamsik sliced through the middle of the pitch and chose to send the ball out to Callejón, on his right. It looked to be the wrong choice, as Callejón was immediately surrounded by Marseille players, but he managed to thread the ball through their legs back into the middle. An onrushing Mertens performed a nifty little backheel to set up Zapata, who curved his shot over the defense and into the top right corner. It was a lovely finish and, in the end, a crucial goal.
Because, this being a makeshift Napoli defense, it seemed inevitable that a goal would be conceded. To be fair to the partenopei, however, the late Marseille goal was a rather good one. Armero's headed clearance did fall to a white shirt, although a fair distance outside the area. The ball came back into the middle and was dinked sideways by Jordan Ayew, over the head of Valon Behrami, perfectly setting up his brother André Ayew. Dédé controlled the pass with his chest, letting it bounce perfectly off the pitch before he fired past Reina into goal.
The match ended with a fun little heart attack. Gökhan İnler fouled Dédé, setting up a dangerous free kick. Fortunately Reina was quick to grab it, falling to the ground to smother the ball. The save preserved Napoli's three points, although with Borussia Dortmund beating Arsenal, the partenopei remain third in Group F.