An Edinson Cavani brace has knocked holders Inter out of the Coppa Italia with Napoli’s thrilling 2-0 victory.
The winners of this Coppa Italia tie go on to face Siena in the semi-final next month, so have a very good chance of reaching the Final at the Stadio Olimpico in May.
Ezequiel Lavezzi returned for his first start since suffering a thigh strain at the end of last year, putting the Three Tenors back together. The Nerazzurri lost Lucio and Giampaolo Pazzini this morning to flu symptoms, so Wesley Sneijder supported Diego Milito and Andrea Ranocchia stepped in to the defence.
Christian Maggio sprung the offside trap and trapped a Walter Gargano cross-field ball, but his finish was fingertipped over the bar from close range by Luca Castellazzi.
Gargano’s free kick whistled just wide, while at the other end Walter Samuel’s header was straight at the goalkeeper.
On the half-hour mark Sneijder was extremely lucky to avoid a straight red card, as he went in studs-first on to Gargano’s shin in a very dangerous tackle. The Uruguayan was understandably furious, but the referee did not even award a free kick.
More controversy when Edinson Cavani rushed into the box and went shoulder to shoulder with Chivu, but the referee waved play on and this time it seemed to be the right decision.
Salvatore Aronica wasted a counter-attack by scuffing his shot straight at Castellazzi, while Marek Hamsik did the same with a wayward angled drive. Sneijder was booked for kicking into the net after play had been stopped and risked a second yellow for his late tackle on Maggio. Joel Obi fired off target before the break and was substituted by Ricky Alvarez.
Straight after the restart Thiago Motta’s glancing header from a corner was scrambled away, but the Brazilian who plays for Italy made a double mistake at the other end. He gave the ball away to Cavani on the edge of the box, then got back to trip the Uruguayan as he was pulling the trigger. El Matador missed a penalty at the weekend, but buried this central spot-kick to give Napoli the lead.
Diego Milito went down in the box soon after, but he was booked for either simulation or his protests and El Principe was furious, claiming Maggio had pulled him down by the shoulder. De Sanctis had his palms stung by a rocket of a free kick from Sneijder, then moments later the Dutchman unleashed another screamer just wide.
Goran Pandev came on against the club that still owns his contract, but Inter came so close to an equaliser. A Sneijder through ball released Alvarez, who only prodded it meekly into De Sanctis’ arms.
Last man Samuel flung himself at Cavani’s feet to stop him getting the shot away set up by Pandev. The Napoli pair changed places on a Gargano inspired counter-attack, but this time Pandev volleyed over the bar.
Milito let himself fall when he felt Paolo Cannavaro’s arm, but the referee waved play on and opted against flashing a second yellow card for simulation.
Gargano thought he’d scored Napoli’s second 10 minutes from time, but Castellazzi did just about enough to block at his feet from six yards. Another Sneijder snapshot went just wide, but De Sanctis needed a spectacular three reaction saves in six seconds. First he flapped away Douglas Maicon’s cross, then parried Zarate’s half-volley and the follow-up from Esteban Cambiasso too.
Castellazzi wanted some of the spotlight and performed a wonderful flying save to tip Blerim Dzemaili’s blockbuster out from under the bar. Pandev also wanted a penalty in stoppages for the slightest of nudges, but the referee maintained his standard by walking away.
With the final kick of the game Napoli went on one of their classic counter-attacks and Cavani made it 2-0. He turned Ranocchia inside out, then dribbled around the goalkeeper to deposit into an empty net.
Napoli 2-0 Inter
Scorers: Cavani pen 50, 93 (N)
Napoli:De Sanctis; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio, Gargano, Inler (Dzemaili 81), Zuniga; Hamsik (Dossena 87), Lavezzi (Pandev 65); Cavani
Inter:Castellazzi; Maicon, Ranocchia, Samuel, Chivu; Zanetti, Thiago Motta (Zarate 76), Cambiasso, Obi (Alvarez 46); Sneijder, Milito