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Napoli 2, Porto 2: Down And Out

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A positive performance for Napoli was undone in the space of ten horrifying minutes, and Napoli have been eliminated from the Europa League.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
-T.S. Elliot, The Hollow Men

ssc napoli blog sbn

Napoli 2 Pandev 21', Zapata 90'
Porto 2 Ghilas 69', Quaresma 76'

Porto advance, 2-3 on aggregate

What a waste. Napoli was in full control of the match for the first hour, creating one dangerous chance after another, putting all kinds of pressure on a makeshift Porto back line. They held a 1-0 lead that easily could have been wider thanks to several clear-cut chances blown by poor finishing.

Then, inexplicably, the team became bizarrely passive not long after the hour mark. Rafa Benitez responded to that by throwing on Marek Hamsik for Goran Pandev (why Hamsik didn't start such a vital match is beyond me, but that's another tale for another time), but Porto took advantage of a poor Valon Behrami challege, with Nabil Ghilas pouncing on a loose ball and firing home past Pepe Reina.

What little wind was still in Napoli's sails went completely out at that point, ending in Ricardo Quaresma walking through Napoli's defense and firing an unsaveable shot home. It was an embarrassing display for Napoli's defenders, and to be brutally honest a Porto goal was deserved for that effort. That put Porto up two goals on aggregate and gave them two away goals, and essentially ended the tie right then and there.

There was a late fightback, including a Duvan Zapata goal, but it was too little, too late. Horrendous finishing by all of Napoli's attackers and a fifteen minute switch-off cost Napoli the match and their chance at a Europa League title, pure and simple. Some are blaming Rafa Benitez for his tactical decisions, and his lineup choices and late substitutions certainly are open for some degree of criticism.

Still, no matter how odd or questionable or poor or whatever other adjective you want to use to describe the lineup and tactics that Benitez employed were, what it all comes down to is finishing. Higuain, Pandev, Insigne, and Mertens all blew multiple clear chances for goals. All of them. Several times. Another open chance was put to the feet of Henrique, who should have been the last man on the field put in that position.

Napoli had twenty-seven shots, and put twelve of them on target. Twelve. They converted just two. While the flash and momentum were well on Napoli's side, the end product just wasn't up to par in any way. Porto took what chances they managed to get well, and fully deserved to advance.

Now the only goal is to catch and pass Roma for second place. I suppose not having more European matches will help with that, but losing a chance at a European trophy stings more than a little.