As Napoli faces up to the mountainous task of beating Arsenal by three goals to progress from Champions League Group F, it can blame nobody but itself for the position it finds itself in.
Yes, it could very well collect 12 points from the so-called ‘Group of Death’ and still be eliminated, which is pretty tough luck. Yes, its fate has partly been conditioned by small moments which might have gone another way, such as Pablo Armero’s fluke late own goal against Borussia Dortmund, or Arsenal’s smash-and-grab win in Germany.
But when all is said and done it is poor decision making which has let the team down badly and is likely to see it fall at the first hurdle, with Federico Fernandez’s manhandling of Robert Lewandowski and the subsequent penalty paving the way for a crucial 3-1 defeat to BVB on Tuesday. The Partenopei had easily been the better side in the opening stages of the game, but once Marco Reus dispatched the spot kick the visitors were always playing catch up.
Fernandez is not the first player, nor will he be the last, to concede a penalty kick in such a fashion, but it seems as though Italian sides are most guilty of the trait. Referees in Serie A may well usually allow the free-for-alls that can occur in the 18-yard area, but when it comes to representative football in Europe, there is just no getting away with it.
After Stephan Lichtsteiner had taken a heavy-handed approach to marking Celtic’s Gary Hooper last season, the Juventus defender was the subject of much fist-shaking across Europe. And the previous campaign had seen Alessandro Nesta penalized for a similar pull on Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets as AC Milan relinquished the advantage in its quarterfinal on the way to eventual elimination.
One would like to think that this latest misdemeanor from Fernandez will catch the attention of defenders across Italy and that the eventuality will not arise again, especially given how vital this incident is likely to be in the final group standings, but that remains wishful thinking at this stage.
Napoli will be victims in the Group of Death simply because it played with fire and got well and truly burnt.Follow Kris Voakes on Twitter
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