Napoli’s Europa League hopes are hanging by a thread after their 3-1 defeat to Dnipro highlighted the usual problems on set plays and with squad rotation.
Walter Mazzarri said failure to get a result in Ukraine would see the Partenopei crash out of the Europa League, but he still revolutionised his team with the likes of Edinson Cavani, Goran Pandev, Paolo Cannavaro and Morgan De Sanctis rested, while Marek Hamsik sat out a ban. Dnipro had a 100 per cent record in Group F so far and intended to maintain it.
It took all of 65 seconds for Dnipro to take the lead! A Ruslan Rotan free kick was whipped into the box and nobody took control of it, so eventually Artem Fedetskiy was able to bundle over the line from four yards.
Lorenzo Insigne curled off target and there were several attempts charged down in quick succession, as Zuniga half-volleyed over the bar at the end of it.
Zuniga ran a risk when tussling with Roman Zozulya in the box, but the referee awarded a corner to Dnipro. Ivan Strinic had a great chance, his fierce strike from distance shaving a coat of paint off the base of the far post.
Matheus went clear down the left and Napoli were fortunate that Yevhen Seleznyov slipped on his pull-back. Seleznyov threatened again from a Rotan corner, volleying off target with Marco Donadel down injured.
Captain Rotan curled another dangerous free kick on to the roof of the net, but during that move Zozulya picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Jaba Kankava for a 4-2-3-1 system.
Napoli thought they had equalised on 38 minutes when a free kick was nodded down by Federico Fernandez for Insigne to head into the net, but the linesman raised his flag as Fernandez was offside.
A scuffle broke out near the touchline with Salvatore Aronica and Rotan particularly tense after Donadel was booked for a late tackle.
Napoli went 2-0 down moments later as once again they completely failed to deal with a dead-ball situation. A long free kick was punched away by Rosati, then Fedetskiy hooked it back in and Matheus was quickest to react with a low header from six yards.
Fernandez threatened to make matters even worse when jerking his head on to the nose of Seleznyov. The referee did not spot the incident, but he was advised by his assistants to show the yellow card rather than the entirely understandable straight red.
After the restart a long ball again took the Partenopei by surprise, but were fortunate that Seleznyov volleyed wide.
Mazzarri had to gamble, so threw on Edinson Cavani and Goran Pandev to join Insigne. The Uruguayan created a chance for himself but didn’t get enough power behind the finish.
Cavani was so unlucky on 57 minutes when his header was fingertipped against the base of the upright after a well-worked team move and Aronica cross.
Insigne only scuffed his shot, but Dnipro had a great opportunity on the counter-attack with Nikola Kalinic. The substitute kept going wider and wider under pressure from defenders and Rosati, so was eventually forced to hit the upright from too tight an angle.
Moments later Rosati performed a stunning save to deny Giuliano from point-blank range, but the move continued and the ball ricocheted off Zuniga, so Giuliano was quickest to react from six yards. Once again, the Napoli defence looked sluggish.
Giandomenico Mesto flew down the right and Jan Lastuvka came rushing off his line to smother the toe-poke. Rotan risked an own goal to intercept a cross, while Fedetskiy’s left-foot curler skimmed the post with Rosati rooted to the spot.
Napoli did get a foothold into the game when Cavani trapped a Zuniga ball over the top and was clearly tripped by Mazuch for a penalty. El Matador got back up to convert with confidence, hitting a powerful strike.
Pandev just failed to get the final touch to a Mesto cross from a couple of yards and Zuniga eventually blasted it over.
It did look like a completely different team with Cavani on the pitch and his towering header from Zuniga’s cross was acrobatically palmed out from under the crossbar by Lastuvka. A Cavani free kick also curled just wide in stoppages, but it was too little, too late.
Dnipro 3-1 Napoli
Scorers: Fedetskiy 2 (D), Matheus 42 (D), Giuliano 64 (D), Cavani pen 75 (N)
Dnipro: Lastuvka; Mazuch, Mandziuk, Strinic, Fedetskiy (Denisov 82), Giuliano, Cheberyachko, Rotan, Zozulya (Kankava 37), Seleznyov (Kalinic 58), Matheus
Napoli: Rosati; Aronica, Fernandez, Gamberini (Inler 79); Dossena (Pandev 52), Donadel, Zuniga, Dzemaili, Mesto; Vargas (Cavani 52), Insigne
Ref: Gocek (TUR)