Napoli lost 1-0 away to Porto with their former target Jackson Martinez getting the goal, but they risked a heavier defeat.
The Partenopei were without Christian Maggio, Juan Camilo Zuniga, Giandomenico Mesto, Rafael Cabral and the cup-tied Jorginho for the first leg of this Europa League Round of 16, but gave Paulo Henrique a surprise start in midfield. Porto fielded ex-Inter winger Ricardo Quaresma and striker Jackson Martinez, who had been close to a summer switch to Napoli. This was the second game under new Coach Luis Castro, as Paulo Fonseca was fired last week.
Pepe Reina needed a sensational reaction save after 11 minutes when Martinez got between the centre-backs for a volley from six yards on the cross floated in from the right.
Reina beat away a Steven Defour snapshot from distance and as the move continued Carlos Eduardo nodded in at the back post, but he was flagged offside in a very contentious decision.
Anthony Reveillere rolled a dangerous ball across the face of goal, but Gonzalo Higuain was unable to make contact for the tap-in. Rafa Benitez’s men became more aggressive as the half wore on, as Lorenzo Insigne went on a mazy run in the box and Jose Callejon was anticipated as he came sliding in at the back post.
Straight after the restart Reina was again called into action, flying across his goal to palm a fierce Fernando strike round the upright.
Quaresma drilled wide, but Napoli had an extraoardinary opportunity on 52 minutes. Callejon sprung the offside trap down the right and pulled back for Higuain, whose low drive was deflected off the inside of goalkeeper Helton’s ankle. It had been millimetres away from going through his legs.
Helton thanked his boots again moments later when using them to deny a Raul Albiol header from a corner.
Callejon couldn’t believe he had failed to score on 55 minutes, as Higuain’s angled drive had beaten Helton, but it hit the Spaniard from a yard out and bounced away rather than into the empty net.
However, just as Napoli were pouring forward, they went behind on a set play. A corner was not dealt with effectively and Jackson Martinez hit a half-volley into the ground from 10 yards, going across Reina into the far bottom corner with the aid of a deflection off Raul Albiol.
An Insigne dipping effort was comfortably caught by Helton, then the goalkeeper had to rush off his line to clear from Higuain after the offside trap failed.
Porto introduced former Pescara and Udinese creative midfielder Juan Quintero. Alex Sandro was booked for dangerous play and will be suspended for the second leg next week.
There was an extraordinary opportunity for Porto and Napoli thanked the woodwork. A sliding Miguel Angel Britos tackle prevented the tap-in, then it fell to Quintero whose finish thumped the upright before Fernando missed the follow-up.
Duvan Zapata replaced Higuain and almost scored with his first touch, as he redirected a Paulo Henrique wayward effort from six yards and was kept out by a Maicon goalline clearance.
Zapata threatened again in stoppages, but mistimed his sliding finish on a Goran Pandev ball across the face of goal. The second leg is at the Stadio San Paolo next Thursday and Napoli are forced to win.
Porto 1-0 Napoli
Scorers: Martinez 57 (P)
Porto: Helton; Danilo, Maicon, Mangala, Alex Sandro; Fernando; Quaresma, Defour (Herrera 87), Carlos Eduardo (Quintero 67), Varela (Ghilas 72); Martinez
Napoli: Reina; Reveillere, Albiol, Britos, Ghoulam; Henrique, Behrami; Callejon (Pandev 79), Hamsik (Mertens 74), Insigne; Higuain (Duvan Zapata 83)
Ref: Kralovec (CZE)