The match was often wild, frequently open, and had a little bit too much insanity for comfort at times. Despite looking like things were destined for Extra time, though, Napoli were able to snatch the win at almost the last moment thanks to Gonzalo Higuain capitalizing on an extraordinary defensive error, and Napoli run on to the next round of the Coppa Italia on the back of a 1-0 win.
Most of the first half was a wide-open, pell-mell affair. Napoli would race up one way, Inter back the other once possession changed hands. Inter had the better scoring chances early on, especially when Mauro Icardi hit the post after Mariano Andujar gave up on the ball too early. Napoli were the stronger side as the first half wore on, but their best chances were too often ruined by Gonzalo Higuain getting too greedy, either ignoring open supporting runs to take a difficult shot himself, or in one case actually knocking Ivan Strinic off the ball only to trip over Inter goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carizzo.
The second half was much the same, with both sides pushing hard for a goal in order to avoid the match going to extra time. Inter often seemed on the edge of exploiting a shaky pairing of Miguel Britos and Raul Albiol at center back at least half a dozen times in the second half, but poor efforts in the final third from Icardi, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Hernanes kept them from scoring.
Things were complicated for Napoli by a couple of bizarre substitutions from Rafa Benitez. Jonathan De Guzman was having an absolutely terrible match on the left flank, proving useless on the ball and getting overrun by Yuto Nagatomo when Inter were in possession, so when Rafa sent up Dries Mertens to be the first sub in the 73rd minute, everyone assumed De Guzman would be the one coming off. Instead, Jose Callejon was pulled off despite doing a good job against Davide Santon, regularly creating chances and space for Napoli's attack.
Three minutes later, up steps Manolo Gabbiadini to come in. Surely De Guzman is off now, right? Nope. Marek Hamsik, creator of over half of Napoli's chances and by far the most effective piece of Napoli's possession game on the day, was the one called to the bench. De Guzman only came off after he hurt himself missing a sitter in the 82nd minute. While perhaps resting Callejon and Hamsik for this weekend's league match against Udinese is a factor, the simple fact remains that this was an elimination match against a good team in a competition that Napoli are supposedly taking seriously. Leaving on someone having a bad day and taking off two of your best instead is not smart managing.
It worked out in the end, though. Late in stoppage time, as both sides started to look resigned to having to play extra time, Napoli earned a throw in in Inter's half. Faouzi Ghoulam, who came on for the embarrassed De Guzman, picked up the ball and realized that Gonzalo Higuain was isolated against Inter defender Andrea Ranocchia with no other defenders in sight. Ghoulam threw it in quickly, and Ranocchia made a horrible miscue in his attempt to cover it, allowing Higuain to run on to the ball easily to slot past Carrizo and win the game.
It would have been nice, and far less stressful, to not leave the win so late, but Napoli got the win anyways. With today's victory, the partenopei move on to the semi-final round of the Coppa Italia, joining Juventus, Fiorentina, and Lazio in the last step before the final in Rome. None of those potential semi-final ties will be easy, but no road to defending a title is.
Napoli: Andujar; Koulibaly, Albiol, Britos, Strinic; Gargano, David Lopez; Callejon (Mertens 73'), Hamsik (Gabbiadini 76'), De Guzman (Ghoulam 84'); Higuain
Goal: Higuain 90'+2
Inter: Carrizo; Nagatomo, Ranocchia, Juan Jesus, Santon (Dodo 86'); Medel, Brozovic, Hernanes (Guarin 74'); Shaqiri; Puscas, Icardi