After a disastrous start, Napoli were able to dig deep and found a way to come back and thrash their Russian guests, beating Dynamo Moscow 3-1 to take fairly good control of their Europa League round of 16 tie. They won on the back of a Gonzalo Higuain hat trick, and hopefully will be able to use this match to overturn some poor recent momentum.
The match couldn't have started off much worse, giving up one clear early shot to Yuri Zhirkov on one of the first touches of the match before giving up a far-too-easy goal to Kevin Kuranyi moments later. That start seemed to knock Napoli badly off balance, with Dynamo running all over them and the partnenopei attack unable to do anything cohesive when they had the ball.
Things went from bad to worse when Kalidou Koulibaly went down holding his ankle in the 8th minute, with the physios calling for Raul Albiol to come on as a substitute almost immediately after getting to the Frenchman's side. It didn't look good for Koulibaly as the physios were working on him after helping him to the side of the pitch, but hopefully he won't be out for long. He's far too important to Napoli.
Fortunately, Dynamo weren't able to take further advantage of Napoli's early shakiness, and the boys in denim were able to slowly work their way back in to the match. They started looking as though confidence was finally growing around the 20th minute, and it wasn't long before the breakthrough was there for the taking.
To no one's surprise, it was Faouzi Ghoulam racing up the left flank on a counter that was the pivotal moment, pinging in a near-perfect cross that Gonzalo Higuain flicked on past Vladimir Gabulov in goal to level the scoreline. You could feel the momentum slowly, grindingly shifting Napoli's way before that moment, but when the ball snapped in to the net you could almost hear the pop as the match flipped on its head.
Just minutes later, Dries Mertens was hacked down in the box by Mathieu Valbuena, and it was a penalty for Napoli. Higuain calmly slotted the ball dead center after making the keeper think he was going to his right, and Napoli were off to the races. Things played out a bit more evenly through the rest of the half, but the second half immediately began with disaster for Dynamo.
The ball was pinging around Napoli's left flank a bit, with neither side able to keep the ball for more than a couple of touches or get the ball out of about a 15-yard box of an area. This clearly upset Roman Zobnin, who went in hard and late on a tackle against Ghoulam as the left back was getting the ball away to Inler. The referee was not amused with the Russian midfielder, and showed him his second yellow card of the match, putting the visitors down to ten men and basically sealing the match with half of it yet to be played.
Of course, leaving things as they were just wasn't enough for Higuain, who wanted that hat trick, and boy did he earn it. Less than ten minutes after getting the man advantage, Higuain found himself with space in the box and a weird ball coming in from Jonathan De Guzman. It was too high to volley, even with a scissor-kick, but too low to head. Most strikers would have gotten locked up by the ball, but Higuain just tapped it off his chest and leaned over to hammer it home.
This Pipita guy might just be good. Maybe. Just throwing out the possibility.
Napoli couldn't find another goal in the match, but still go in to the second leg in good position. Things aren't completely rosy with just a two goal lead and Dynamo holding an away goal heading in to the Russian leg of the match next week, but it's still not a bad place to be in at all. It's certainly a far cry better than things looked like they would end up in the first few minutes of the match. Still, things are far from tied up heading in to the second leg, but this is not a bad place to be in at all. Now, on to Verona.
Napoli: Andujar; Henrique, Koulibaly (Albiol 9'), Britos, Ghoulam; Jorginho, Inler; Callejon (Zuniga 82'), De Guzman (Hamsik 70'), Mertens; Higuain
Goals: Higuain (25', pen. 31', 55')
Dynamo Moscow: Gabulov; Kozlov, Hubocan, Samba, Zhirkov; Valbuena (Ionov 72'), Zobnin (red 46'), Vainqueur, Dzsudzsak (Tashaev 90'+1); Kuranyi (Buttner 62'), Kokorin
Goals: Kuranyi (1')