It wasn’t a pretty end thanks to an unjust red card for Elseid Hysaj, but the game as a whole was fantastic for Napoli, with goals from Arkadiusz Milik and Faouzi Ghoulam in a comprehensive 3-1 destruction of Hellas Verona, with Napoli absolutely dominant for almost all of the first 80 minutes of the match before going down to ten men.
The first half was a fantastic display from Napoli, completely controlling the pace of the game and dictating the proceedings to their hosts. Hellas Verona were trying hard and actually playing well themselves, to their credit, but Napoli were just head-and-shoulders the better side, constantly driving forward to threaten at goal, especially whenever Lorenzo Insigne was on the ball.
The diminutive attacker was a massive threat all day long, constantly challenging Nicolas in Hellas Verona’s goal. He actually held up quite well — until a 32nd minute corner that saw him completely mis-time his jump, and when Samuel Souprayen was caught at the far post not paying attention, the resulting shin-glance off the left back rolled in for an own goal for Napoli, one held up by VAR despite protests from Nicolas of a foul.
Of course, Napoli weren’t satisfied to open their season’s scoring with an own goal, so they turned up the pace. Just seven minutes later, Insigne charged up the pitch on a counter attack and lobbed up a perfect cross-field ball for Arkadiusz Milik to run on to, who made no mistake with his half-volley that beat Nicolas with ease.
Napoli’s domination of the match continued well into the second half, with Faouzi Ghoulam scoring his first-ever goal for the club in his 100th league appearance and Napoli looking cooly confident as they cruised to the finish — until Elseid Hysaj was shocking shown a red card in the 82nd minute for what was ostensibly a last-man challenge in the penalty area on Daniel Bessa to give Verona a penalty.
But Hysaj had help too close to call it a last-man straight red — and despite Hysaj having been booked earlier in the match, the referee when straight for a red card, so it wasn’t a second yellow — and replays very clearly showed Bessa pulling on Hysaj’s shirt, then pushing off him to go down on his own. It was a ludicrous call, but the referee refused to go to VAR to confirm the decision, and after Giampaolo Pazzini converted the penalty, Napoli had to defend a two-goal lead for more than ten minutes with stoppage time.
They managed to — barely, at times — and Napoli earned the fill three points against Hellas Verona to start off the season in style. Hopefully they can get the Hysaj red overturned on appeal, but more importantly, hopefully Napoli can use this performance to launch themselves to a strong and decisive Serie A campaign.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj (red 82’), Chiriches, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Zielinski, Diawara, Hamsik (Allan 66’); Callejon (Giaccherini 73’), Milik (Mertens 61’), Insigne
Goals: Souprayen O.G. (32’), Milik (39’), Ghoulam (62’)
Hellas Verona: Nicolas; Ferrari, Caceres, Heurtaux (Valoti 86’), Souprayen; Romulo, Buchel, Zaccagni (Fares 64’); Cerci (Pazzini 72’), Bessa, Verde
Goals: Pazzini (pen. 83’)