Real Beat Napoli
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