For a club that went bankrupt in 2004, being back in Europe’s most prestigious tournament was itself a huge source of pride. They started strong, winning five points in the first three rounds, before losing a 3-2 thriller to powerhouses Bayern Munich. The Partenopei got through to the knockouts, something 菠菜收录they have utterly failed to achieve since, but it just made what followed even more painful.
Walter Mazzarri’s side thought they had booked their spot in the quarter-finals after a glorious 3-1 victory over Chelsea at the Stadio San Paolo. Paolo Cannavaro’s howler had set up Juan Mata for the opening goal, but an Ezequiel Lavezzi brace and Edinson Cavani bundling it over the line turned the situation around completely. All they had to do was not lose at Stamford Bridge by two clear goals.
Last season, Maurizio Sarri’s men became early favourites to win the Europa League after steamrollering past all opposition in the group phase, disposing of Club Brugge, Legia Warsaw and Midtjylland with 22 goals scored and just three conceded. Villarreal weren’t considered too much of a threat in the circumstances, but a very unlucky 1-0 defeat at the Stadio El Madrigal and 1-1 domestic draw saw yet another promising dream vanish in the Round of 32.
The 2014-15 Champions League season was over before it started, eliminated by Athletic Bilbao in the preliminary round. Unperturbed, they poured all their focus into achieving greatness in the Europa League and seemed dominant, topping their group, then picking up huge away victories at Trabzonspor (4-0) and Wolfsburg (4-1). When paired with Ukrainians Dnipro in the semi-final, Napoli were already preparing a spot on the mantelpiece for the trophy. Perhaps that arrogance cost them dearly, as a 1-1 home draw and 1-0 away defeat saw them falter at the last hurdle.
In 2012-13, they crashed out of the Europa League Round of 32, 5-0 on aggregate to unfancied Viktoria Plzen. The next season provided entry into the Champions League again and under Rafa Benitez they expected more European experience. Napoli did seem to have turned a corner, earning prestigious victories over Olympique Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal to retain a 100 per cent record on home turf. Gonzalo Higuain and co finished the group phase with 12 points – the exact same number as Dortmund and the Gunners – so a complicated head-to-head tally was worked out that sent the Germans and English through to the博狗娱乐 next round, but dropped Napoli into the Europa League.
Sarri’s side are joint top with Benfica on seven points, just one clear of Besiktas who have a superior head-to-head record with Napoli, and still face a trip to Portugal. Qualification at this stage is anything but secure and the ghosts of past failure float into view.
That campaign remains a Champions League record, as no other club has failed to go through to the knockouts with 12 group phase points. It’s scant consolation for the Napoli fans, of course.
Didier Drogba and John Terry provided that two-goal cushion, Gokhan Inler’s strike gave Napoli a precious away goal and Frank Lampard forced extra time from the penalty spot: 3-1 Chelsea. After 105 minutes of football in London in front of thousands of Neapolitan supporters, Branislav Ivanovic snatched Chelsea’s fourth goal and doomed the Azzurri dream.
The first time Napoli played in the current format of the Champions League was in 2011-12 and ever since the continental competition has proved to be a series of near misses and bitter regrets.
That taste of what Napoli felt they deserved and yet could not attain would be the running theme over the next six years. The Champions League, and to a lesser extent the Europa League, have been thoroughly cruel to the Campani365bet线上攻略a club.
Will this Champions League experience be any better, or is it shaping up to be another bitter let-down? Arkadiusz Milik was the commanding figure in back-to-back victories over Dynamo Kiev and Benfica. They went into the third match against Besiktas knowing another win could propel them into the knockouts early, enabling precious squad rotation for the rest of the group phase. Milik snapped the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee on international duty with Poland, but they still had plenty of firepower to get a result, right?
If they can break that taboo and get to the Round of 16, hopefully Milik should be fit again by February and the summer signings ready to give a more consistent contribution. But that’s all speculation now and looking ahead of themselves never served Napoli well in the past. It’s all about the here and now, finding a way to shake off that continental taboo.
You can look to Milik’s injury as the turning point, but the fact this pattern keeps repeating in Europe must mean something else is at play here. Fans and the team are now gripped by the terror of another opportunity thrown away on the continent, the label of Champions League nearly-men increasingly branded on to that blue shirt.
What nobody expected was for a series of defensive errors, appalling finishing and a Lorenzo Insigne penalty miss to see the Turkish outfit win at the San Paolo, ending the 18-match unbeaten European home run. A 1-1 draw away to Besiktas and Napoli find themselves staring down the barrel of early elimination yet again.