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Napoli 3, Swansea 1: On To The Next, Somehow

Despite a nerve-wracking performance, Napoli have beaten Swansea and are though to the next round of the Europa League.

Giuseppe Bellini

A desperate finish to the match saw Napoli beat Swansea, but a poor performance at home kept the Welsh visitors in the match all the way to the finish. Napoli are in the next round of the Europa League and will face FC Porto, but this is not the way fans wanted to see it happen.

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Napoli 3 Insigne 16', Higauin 78', Inler 90+3'
Swansea City 1 De Guzman 30'

Let's just get this out of the way now: outside of a bright opening 25 minutes or so, Napoli did not play well at all. Henrique Buss was a disaster in central defense, Goran Pandev was utterly ineffective, and the subs made by Rafa Benitez were either late (Hamsik for Pandev), wrong (Mertens for Insigne instead of Callejon), or mind-boggling (Britos for Callejon). Swansea played out of their skulls at the San Paolo, and Napoli are very, very fortunate to have advanced in this tie.

Napoli started out the match extremely well, pressing Swansea's back line hard and generating a bevy of chances thanks to fantastic interchanging play between Lorenzo Insigne and Gonzalo Higuain. Insigne's wonderful opening goal had been coming for quite awhile, as both he and Higuain had come close on several occasions.

Then, inexplicably, everything changed. Raul Albiol had effectively marked Wilfried Bony out of the match early on, then suddenly Henrique Buss was given that assignment despite his abject failure to contain the Ivorian striker last week. To the surprise of exactly nobody, he did no better in that task today, and Bony spent the rest of the match making Henrique look like a training cone.

That alone allowed Swansea in to the match in a big way, but the changes didn't stop there. Napoli suddenly started forcing the ball through Pandev instead of continuing to exploit the Insigne-Higuain partnership that had done so well. Naturally, that worked out poorly, especially since Pandev kept trying to bring in Jose Callejon, who was having a heck of a time trying to get around a fantastic Ben Davies. This shift in focus also led to the previously excellent pressing to evaporate, allowing Swansea's fullbacks to get back in to their attack.

Add all that with an inability for Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami to deal with the runs through the middle from Pablo Hernandez, and things got indescribably ugly for the hosts from about the half hour mark through most of the rest of the match. That Swansea's equalizer came on a completely unmarked run from Jonathan De Guzman from the center circle well in to the box was simply typical of what we'd seen throughout the match.

Seeing Swansea basically in charge of so much of the match was incredibly frustrating, and even the introduction of Marek Hamsik in to the match didn't do a lot to fix it. While Marek was wisely getting things back to the Insigne/Higuain interchange that gave Dwayne Tiendalli and Chico Flores fits early, he was having to drop so deep to get the ball most of the time that it was hard to build play properly forward.

Fortunately, Higuain's almsot inhuman force of will got a go-ahead goal out of nothing, and Pepe Reina recovered from a nightmarish first hour of the match to finish it out in super-human fashion, pulling out several fantastic reaction saves. They came agonizingly close to a third on several late counters before Higuain finally put Inler through one-on-one with the keeper, and the pained relief on Pipita's face as the ball hit the back of the net was echoed by every single partenopei fan around the world.

Whether Swansea deserved to go through or not, it's Napoli who are on to the next round. FC Porto are now in their sights, thanks to the Portuguese club's own herculean comeback against Eintracht Frankfurt. Porto have had their own issues this season, but are a strong club that Napoli will have to be on-point to get past. Hopefully their big club status will be enough to see Napoli put in a good performance.

In the meantime, I'll be over here waiting for my heart rate to go down.