Real Beat Napoli

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Raphael Min­der

Real Madrid en­tered its match against Napoli in the Cham­pi­ons League’s round of 16 on Wed­nes­day as the firm fa­vorite, at least on pa­per: Madrid is the de­fend­ing cham­pion, and Napoli last reached this stage of the com­pe­ti­tion in 2012.

Still, the matchup was more in­trigu­ing be­cause the two sides had not met in a Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion in 30 years and Napoli stood out as one of the most im­proved teams on the Con­ti­nent. The team that ar­rived in Madrid this week was un­beaten in 18 games stretch­ing back to Oc­to­ber.

But on Wed­nes­day at the Bern­abeu sta­dium, it was not Real Madrid’s su­per­stars with their silky drib­bling skills that took the spot­light. Rather, it was the team’s work­horse, the Brazil­ian mid­fielder Casemiro, who struck an amaz­ing vol­ley to com­plete a 3-1 vic­tory over Napoli in the first leg of the en­counter.

Madrid took con­trol of the match from the open­ing minute, when Pepe Reina, Napoli’s goal­keeper, was forced to block a close-range shot from Karim Ben­zema at the end of a quick move set up by Cris­tiano Ron­aldo.

But it soon be­came clear that Napoli had the speed and coun­ter­at­tack­ing skills to hurt Madrid — and so it proved in the eighth minute, when Marek Ham­sik, Napoli’s Slo­vak cap­tain, sliced through Madrid’s de­fense with a pass that found Lorenzo In­signe with plenty of open space. In­signe saw that Key­lor Navas, the Madrid keeper, was far off the goal line and took his chance, hit­ting a shot that bounced past the stranded Navas.

Napoli’s un­ex­pected lead briefly si­lenced the sta­dium, ex­cept for the up­per sec­tion, which was filled with Ital­ian fans. Also in at­ten­dance on Wed­nes­day was Diego Maradona, the for­mer Ar­gen­tine star who trans­formed Napoli into a pow­er­house of Ital­ian soc­cer dur­ing his spell at the club in the late 1980s.

But af­ter be­ing caught f lat-footed by In­signe, Madrid re­newed the pres­sure, and Ben­zema equal­ized 10 min­utes later. Ron­aldo played a de­ci­sive part in Madrid’s sec­ond goal when he cut in from the right and took his time to play the ball back per­fectly for the on­rush­ing Toni Kroos, who hit an un­stop­pable low shot past Reina. Theninthe54thmin­ute­cameCasemiro’s un­ex­pected mo­ment of artistry. His vol­ley, struck pow­er­fully from far out­side the penalty area, flew past the out­stretched Reina into the far cor­ner.

Un­beaten in 18 matches, the Ital­ian side scored the first goal but then fell to the Los Blan­cos

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