Napoli played well, dominating possession and battering Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk with shots and chances, but the partenopei could only manage a single goal and Dnipro were gifted a clearly offside goal, meaning the first leg of this Europa League semifinal ended in a draw, with the Ukrainians holding a vital away goal.
The first half was dominated by a confident defensive display from Dnipro. The Ukrainians defended deep and tight, essentially ceding possession to Napoli and working to frustrate Napoli's chances to score. Frustrate they did, allowing just five shots in the opening half, none of which were on target, and the only one remotely likely to score striking off the post.
A frustrated Napoli side were able to turn around those fortunes early in the second half, catching Dnipro napping on a throw-in and forcing a desperate clearance in front of goal to earn a corner just a few minutes in to the half. David Lopez found himself free on that corner, heading home his first Napoli goal and giving his side a vital lead.
Napoli pushed hard, very hard, to try to find a second goal, hammering Dnipro's goal with shots from a variety of ranges. Unfortunately, Denys Boyko was well up to the task, making several remarkable saves and keeping the scoreline at 1-0 despite everything the partenopei threw at him. Still, it looked like Napoli would inevitably score a second -- until everything changed.
Evgen Seleznyov stepped on to the pitch as a substitute for Dnipro, and was quickly involved up top on a counter attack. He and Roman Bezus both got behind Napoli's defense at just the right moment, with Bezus' failed header pulling Mariano Andujar to his side and allowing Seleznyov to tap in an absolutely massive equalizer -- except he and Bezus didn't get behind the defense at the right moment. In fact, both of them got behind the defense way too early.
Tiene tutti in gioco Ghoulam pic.twitter.com/cKwBWymhJ5
— © Andreank (@Andreank91) May 7, 2015
Bezus is the closer of the two players, and the farther offside. Seleznyov is still well offside himself when the cross is sent in, but somehow, despite how agonizingly clear it was that both players well off, the offside flag stayed down and the goal was allowed to stand. Napoli pushed hard to take the lead again, but after "earning" their equalizer, Dnipro hardly bothered leaving their own box again, effectively shutting down the match with ten minutes left to play.
It's absolutely infuriating that the goal was allowed to stand, especially as it now completely changes the course of the tie. With few foreign teams ever managing to play especially well in Ukraine, Dnipro will just be able to pack ten men in their box and defend, using their away goal tiebreaker to their full advantage. With the tie at 1-0, Dnipro would have been forced to attack, giving Napoli a chance to counter behind their defense and pip a goal or two of their own, but now that's just not an option.
Yes, Napoli could and should have played better. They could and should have scored more goals. But that doesn't change that one of the worse refereeing decisions of the year, and perhaps the worst of the entire season of the Europa League, potentially changing the outcome of a semifinal tie in Europe is something that absolutely should not happen. If the call was close or questionable or had any bit of doubt to it, that could be one thing. But this was clear as day and indisputable, and the referees managed to get it wrong anyways. It's infuriating, to say the least.
Now Napoli have to find a way to win in Ukraine. This is not going to be easy.
Napoli: Andujar; Maggio, Albiol, Britos, Ghoulam; Jorginho, Lopez (Gargano 71'); Callejon (Gabbiadini 77'), Hamsik, Insigne (Mertens 82'); Higuain
Goal: Lopez (50')
Dnipro: Boyko; Fedetskiy, Douglas, Cheberyachko, Matos; Luchkevych (Gama 57'), Kankava (Bezus 69'), Fedorchuk, Rotan; Konoplyanka; Kalinic (Seleznyov 80')
Goal: Seleznyov (80')