If Napoli know one thing, it's how to make things dramatic. Goals right at the start and end of the match saw the partenopei through, but the match wasn't without it's moments of concern.
The Serie A campaign couldn't have started on a brighter note for Napoli, as they were aggressive straight off the first kick, and it paid off in a big way. Their first chance for a counter-attack went off without a hitch, with Lorenzo Insigne driving hard towards the box, then laying the ball off to his left for Gonzalo Higuain. Pipita took a touch and drove a cross that landed perfectly for Jose Callejon to volley home before Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin had time to redirect himself to the change in direction of the attack.
Napoli pushed their momentum advantage hard for the next few minutes, with Callejon, Higuain, and Marek Hamsik providing several threats that had Genoa fans sweating bullets. That momentum came to nothing, though, and quickly started to wane as Genoa found their feet and started to push back.
The hosts slowly started to generate a bevy of chances, but poor finishing and an inspired performance by Rafael Cabral in goal was enough to see off Genoa's threats. Rafael made several astounding saves in the first half, including one that saw him have to quickly change direction and dive across his momentum at full stretch and palm away a dangerous ball.
Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do come the 39th minute. Chrisitna Maggio failed to properly close down a cross from the byline, and Raul Albiol lost his mark of Mauricio Pinilla, who had all the space and time he needed to head to the far corner out of Rafael's desperate reach to equalize.
The rest of the half finished uneventfully, though outside of the goals the half was pockmarked by overly aggressive play by the hosts. Higuain was constantly being banged around, smacked, and kicked with nary a glance from the ref. Hamsik and Inler each took a few hard shots, and Callejon was slammed hard in to the ad boards and by Luca Antonelli with no consequence. It was extremely frustrating to see Genoa go unpunished for their actions, and it wasn't until well in to the second half before the ref tried to assert any kind of control over the match.
The second half was a very cagey affair, with both sides getting chances early on and failing to finish them. Napoli's best chance came when Jorginho dropped a gorgeous ball over the top in to the box for Higuain, but the Argentine couldn't turn cleanly and got the ball trapped between his feet. He was getting closed down by the time he got it sorted out, and his resulting shot went safely wide and high.
Bad touches were a theme for Higuain in the half, with poor control from Napoli's striker killing no less than five prime chances to score. Insigne didn't do much better, missing on two sublime chances, one when he just needed touch to round the keeper on a counter, only to fire straight in to Perin, then couldn't get enough on his header of the rebound to get it in goal. That was Insigne's last major action of the match before being subbed off, and sadly his two misses will greatly overshadow what was actually a pretty good match for the Italian overall.
Jonathan De Guzman and Michu made their much-anticipated Napoli debuts, with the pair adding some stability to midfield and bite to the attack. De Guzman's quality on the counter and in pressing when out of possession was obvious, and did a lot to help Napoli down the final stretch of the match. Opportunities fell for Higuain and Mertens and were left wanting, and Napoli fans were left frustrated in injury time when Mertens was clotheslined in the box with no call made.
That frustration didn't last long, though. In the last minute of injury time, Napoli got yet another chance in front of goal, with the ball sent in from the right and pinging around a bit before De Guzman latched on at the far post and put the ball in the back of the net for a goal on his debut. It was a fantastic effort and a clean finish from the midfielder, and the joy on his face was obvious as he celebrated his moment.
The three points and dramatic finish were a massive relief after the frustration that Napoli's Champoions League playoff matches brought. Still, there were a number of moments throughout that are cause for concern; were it not for Rafael's stellar goalkeeping and top-shelf defense from Kalidou Koulibaly, this match could have ended very differently.
Genoa: Perin; De Maio, Burdisso, Marchese; Edenilson, Rincon, Sturaro (Mussis 83'), Antonelli; Kucka (Ragusa 74'), Pinilla, Perotti (Falque 69')
Goal Pinilla 39'
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Zuniga; Inler, Jorginho; Insigne (Michu 85'), Hamsik (De Guzman 74'), Callejon (Mertens 65'); Higuain
Goals: Callejon 3', De Guzman 90'+5
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- Sports & Recreation
- Jonathan De Guzman
- Gonzalo Higuain
- Jose Callejon
- Rafael Cabral