Napoli won the match on Wednesday, but lost the war — despite a 3-2 win over Juventus at the Stadio San Paolo, their arch rivals won the Coppa Italia semifinal tie by a final aggregate score of 5-4. It was an impressive fightback, though, with Napoli captain Marek Hamsik putting the team on his back in the second half as they came within moments of earning an impressive comeback win.
The first half was a giant ball of disappointment. Napoli couldn’t get their act together for any kind of sustained run in the half, making mistakes all over the pitch and ultimately gifting a goal to Juventus. Vlad Chiriches completely lost his mark, and Pepe Reina badly misplayed the ball, reacting late anda to the wrong spot as Juventus scored with the greatest of ease to take a huge, 4-1 aggregate lead in the tie.
The second half, though, was a much better affair for Napoli. Marek Hamsik, who entered the game hurt because of a knock at the end of his time on the pitch against Juventus at the weekend, put the team on his back and started willing them to a stronger performance -- and after he scored a fantastic first-time goal from the edge of the box, the team started to respond.
Juventus scored their second goal of the match before Napoli could score again — which would ultimately prove to be the dagger in this tie — but when Dries Mertens came in at the hour mark, he quite literally made an instant impact. As the match restarted following his introduction, Juventus goalkeeper Neto bobbled a ball sent to him by a defender, and Mertens, who had yet to break stride from running onto the pitch, just ran onto the ball and tapped it home.
That made the aggregate score 5-3 in favor of Juventus, and six minutes later it would be 5-4 after Lorenzo Insigne scored a very nice goal of his own. Sadly, that would be it for the scoring, with Juventus shifting into a deep bunker that Napoli couldn’t break down, especially after an exhausted Hamsik was taken off the pitch. That second Juventus goal meant they held the away goals advantage, and Napoli came two goals short of what they needed.
While the first half was awful, the second was a much better indication of what Napoli can do, even under pressure. While they lost the tie, they did earn something of a moral victory, hopefully one they can use to help propel them to better results in the coming weeks. This is a good team and one that can challenge Roma in the race for second place, they just need to consistently show the kind of quality they displayed in the second half to get the job done.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Chiriches, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Zielinski, Diawara, Hamsik (Pavoletti 75’); Callejon, Milik (Mertens 61’), Insigne
Goal: Hamsik (53’), Mertens (61’), Insigne (67’)
Juventus: Neto; Alves, Benatia, Bonucci, Sandro; Khedira, Sturaro; Cuadrado, Dybala (Barzagli 76’), Rincon; Higuain
Goals: Higuain (32’, 58’)