Jose Callejon scored a wonderful brace, but Napoli’s 3-1 Coppa Italia win over Atalanta was dominated by a bizarre and controversial goal.
Lorenzo Insigne’s strike, when the tie was still 1-1, will have pundits and fans discussing how to apply the offside rules for quite a while.
The winners of this tie would go on to face Lazio on January 29 in the quarter-finals. Rafa Benitez gave rare chances to Duvan Zapata, Anthony Reveillere and Josip Radosevic, but Marek Hamsik was still on the bench after failing to play since November 23. Atalanta missed German Denis, Michele Canini, Cristian Raimondi, Marco Sportiello and Andrea Consigli, as the goalkeeper is suffering from chicken pox.
These two clubs met in the 1987 Coppa Italia Final, when Napoli won 4-0 over two legs.
Ciro Polito had to smother at Jose Maria Callejon’s feet after five minutes, but Rafael’s palms were stung by a Marko Livaja screamer from distance.
It was Atalanta who took the shock lead at the rainy San Paolo. Yohan Benalouane sparked the counter-attack, which Livaja rolled across for Giuseppe De Luca to tap in from six yards.
The advantage lasted only a minute, as Callejon equalised with a sensational volley down the right side of the box. He waited for Reveillere’s cross to drop and smashed in the right-foot volley from a tight angle across the goalkeeper.
Zapata hit the side-netting rather than pull back for Insigne, but Miguel Angel Britos ran a huge risk when he almost scored an own goal to anticipate De Luca.
In first half stoppages, Mario Yepes proved decisive with a sliding interception as Napoli players were lining up behind him to tap in.
Zapata’s shot was charged down and Benalouane risked a straight red with his two-footed challenge on Zapata. Hamsik was given a standing ovation by the crowd when making his comeback for the first appearance since November 23.
Insigne came extremely close to scoring a wonderful goal, but his curling free kick smacked against the near top corner of the crossbar.
The Partenopei were pouring forward and skimmed the upright with Zapata’s back heel flick redirected by Benalouane.
Napoli did take the lead with one of the strangest goals ever seen in Italian football. Gonzalo Higuain was offside, but the ball never actually reached him, as it hit Cristiano Del Grosso in the back. While the entire Atalanta defence stood still and turned towards the linesman, the ball bounced into Insigne’s path and he turned into an empty net. The Orobici were absolutely furious and Mario Yepes took his protests too far, earning a red card. While the ball did indeed never reach Higuain, it’s impossible to say he wasn’t interfering with play when Del Grosso was waving to the linesman because of Pipita’s position.
Hamsik almost scored on his comeback with a wonderful volley off the outside of his right boot on Insigne’s inspired assist, but it whistled just wide.
Callejon completed his brace moments later, springing the offside trap on Gokhan Inler’s ball over the top and volleying in at the back post with the inside of his right foot.
Higuain spun round to turn wide under pressure from Constantin Nica
Napoli 3-1 Atalanta
Scorers: De Luca 14 (A), Callejon 15, 81 (N), Insigne 72 (N)
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Britos, Reveillere; Inler, Radosevic; Insigne, Pandev (Hamsik 60), Callejon (Bariti 84); Zapata (Higuain 71)
Atalanta: Polito; Nica, Yepes, Benalouane, Del Grosso; Giorgi (Cigarini 84), Baselli (Stendardo 76), Cazzola, Kone; De Luca (Marilungo 62), Livaja
Ref: De Marco
Sent off: Yepes 73 (A)