Napoli are through to the Champions League last 16 after beating Villarreal 2-0 with Gokhan Inler and Marek Hamsik!
The Partenopei were on the verge of reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, as a win at El Madrigal would secure their spot regardless of the result between Manchester City and the already-qualified Bayern Munich. Even defeat would be enough if City failed to beat the Germans, though.
Salvatore Aronica shook off a knock to start and Nilmar returned from a 10-week absence, but Villarreal missed Giuseppe Rossi, Borja Valero and Cani. The Spaniards had lost all five of their Champions League games this season and were yet to even score at home.
Napoli played with their darker away strip and Jonathan De Guzman was booked within three minutes for a very high studs-up tackle on Gokhan Inler. From that free kick, Juan Zuniga was left totally unmarked, but aimed a meek volley straight at the goalkeeper. Moments later at the other end Marco Ruben’s snapshot cracked the base of the upright, though Morgan De Sanctis had the angle covered.
Zuniga had penalty appeals when Angel Lopez had his arm stretched out over his head to charge down the cross, but the referee surprisingly awarded only a corner. Zapata was booked on 22 minutes for shoving over Ezequiel Lavezzi as he was running towards goal with nobody between him and the ‘keeper, though he escaped a red because the foul was just past the centre-circle. That explanation did not convince a furious Walter Mazzarri, who had reason to demand a dismissal.
Marco Ruben did get the ball in the net, but was clearly offside and the linesman raised the flag.
News filtered through that Manchester City had taken the lead against Bayern Munich, meaning Napoli needed to win at Villarreal. However, an awful Hugo Campagnaro backpass was straight into the path of Ruben, forcing De Sanctis to sprint off his line to clear. Marek Hamsik unleashed a screamer that shaved a coat of paint off the far post.
Within seconds of the restart, De Sanctis had his palms stung by a powerful Perez effort from distance. However, Perez ran the real risk of a second yellow card for clattering into Zuniga.
Lavezzi got to the by-line and pulled back for Cavani, but a sliding tackle intercepted from point-blank range. A fine passing move from Villarreal came to an end when De Guzman lost his balance from six yards.
News came through that Manchester City were 2-0 up, so the pressure was on for Napoli to break this deadlock, yet Aronica had to sprint back for a last-man tackle on Perez. It got to Mazzarri, who was sent off from the touchline for dissent.
Napoli had an amazing chance when Cavani drew out the goalkeeper and pulled back to Lavezzi, whose deflected effort nearly turned into an own goal, but Diego Lopez scrambled back to clear off the line.
The breakthrough finally arrived on 65 minutes with a sensational strike from Inler, who whacked it in at the near post from outside the area with his left foot. The goalkeeper was rooted to the spot watching it sail by, as the Swiss international scored his first goal for Napoli.
It was so nearly 2-0 two minutes later, as Diego Lopez flapped at a corner so Lavezzi tried an audacious scissor-kick volley that the goalkeeper just about managed to palm off the line.
The Partenopei kept pushing and doubled their lead with a strange goal, as the corner made its way low all across the face of goal to find Hamsik from a couple of yards to tap in.
Villarreal had the chance to pull one back in stoppages, but De Sanctis performed an incredible one-handed reaction save to take a header off the line.
The move continued and Gonzalo Rodriguez was caught on camera clearly punching Aronica in the side of the head in an off the ball incident, but the referee did not spot it.
Villarreal 0-2 Napoli
Scorers: Inler 65 (N), Hamsik 76 (N)
Villarreal: Diego Lopez; Angel Lopez, Zapata (Rodriguez 75), Musacchio, Oriol, De Guzman, Bruno Soriano, Senna (Joselu 73), Perez, Marco Ruben, Nilmar (Camunas 65)
Napoli: De Sanctis; Aronica, Cannavaro, Campagnaro; Maggio, Gargano, Inler, Zuniga (Grava 92); Hamsik (Dzemaili 78), Lavezzi; Cavani (Pandev 82)
Ref: Moen (Nor)
Sent off: Mazzarri 54 (N Coach)