Napoli had one foot in the UEFA Champions League group stage after winning the first leg of their playoff tie against Nice 2-0 at home. But the Serie A giants needed to close the deal in France, something they clinched with little-to-no worries thanks to a dominant performance on both sides of the ball.
Two second-half goals from Jose Maria Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne sealed the deal, and Napoli secured their berth in Europe’s top club competition after advancing on a 4-0 aggregate score. Nice, on the other hand, will settle with a berth in the UEFA Europa League’s group stage.
Napoli dictated tempo in the initial 45 minutes
Nice faced a steep mountain to climb after losing the first leg in Italy. And with that in mind, Lucien Favre’s men started the game with a lot of intensity and trying to play with pace. With Jean-Michaël Seri as their playmaker and Mario Belotelli upfront, the French side constantly tried to find ways to upset Napoli’s stout defence. But the Italian side was the one who generated the best chances.
Arguably the biggest scoring opportunity in the first half came thanks to Dries Mertens. The Belgian forward had a one-on-one situation against Yoan Cardinale, but Nice’s goalkeeper was quick to react and denied him the goal. Nice looked stunned after the goal, and failed to generate any sort of danger nearing Pepe Reina’s goal.
Napoli continued to look like the better side. Insigne, Callejon and Mertens gave all kinds of troubles to Nice’s defensive line, but they lacked accuracy in the final third. Nice tested Reina a few times, but neither Sneijder nor Balotelli were sharp on their touches. As a result, the first half ended with a scoreless draw but with Napoli clearly on top of their game.
Callejon Breaks The Deadlock In The Second Half
Things did not change much in the second half. Napoli kept pushing and quickly found the first goal of the game. A superb pass from Marek Hamsik found Callejon, and the Spaniard placed his close-range effort into the open goal. Napoli broke the deadlock, putting even more pressure on Nice who now needed three goals to turn things around.
As if that wasn’t enough, Napoli came inches away from netting a second strike a few minutes. Once again Mertens blasted an effort on target, but this time his shot rattled the post. Nice couldn’t react to what Napoli were offering, and aside from a few runs from Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder, their attacking line looked helpless. It was so bad, that Balotelli left the pitch in the 77th minute with some unfortunate stats under his belt: only one shot off target, one dribble completed, and two duels won out of seven. Very little for someone who was supposed to lead the team in the final third.
Napoli Closed The Deal With Ease
Napoli did not have problems to close things out in the end. Nice barely approached Reina in the final minutes, and the Italians did not take risks, either. Nice had one final chance thanks to Igniatius Ganago, but Reina responded beautifully.
There would be time for another goal, though. A cross from the left side of the box from Faouzi Ghoulam found Insigne, who placed the ball beautifully past Cardinals to make it 2-0. Game, set, and match for Maurizio Sarri’s men. They knew the 4-0 lead on the aggregate score was more than enough to advance.
Nice had most of the possession in the final minutes, but did very little with it. They had a shot in the crossbar right after Insigne’s goal, but that wasn’t enough. Skomina blew the final whistle to push Napoli deservedly into the UEFA Champions League’s group stage.
The Serie A side now will have to wait a bit to know which teams they will face in Europe’s biggest club competition, while Nice will have to prepare for the UEFA Europa League. They certainly enter the competition as one of the top teams, but they will need to improve considerably if we take their performances against Napoli as benchmarks.
Nice: Cardinale; Souquet, Dante, Le Marchand, Jallet; Tameze (Lees Melou 66′), Seri; Walter (Marcel, 79′), Sneijder, Saint-Maximin; Balotelli (Ganago, 77′)
Napoli: Pepe Reina; Hysaj, Raul Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan (Rog, 71′), Jorginho (Diawara, 85′), Hamsik (Zielinski 63′); Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
Goals: Callejon (1-0, 48′), Insigne (2-0, 89′)
Yellow Cards: Seri (8′, NIC), Lees Melou (82′, NIC), Koulibaly (84′, NAP)
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN)
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