Thursday February 21 2019
EL: Ounas and Verdi inspire Napoli

Adam Ounas was Man of the Match with a goal and assist for Simone Verdi as Napoli beat FC Zurich 2-0, reaching the Europa League last 16 with a 5-1 aggregate score.

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The Partenopei had won 3-1 in Switzerland, so there was the risk of complacency in this second leg at a mostly-empty Stadio San Paolo. Mario Rui and Raul Albiol were out injured, so Vlad Chiriches got his first appearance of the season, having torn his ACL in early September. Hekuran Kryeziu was suspended for the visitors, who made numerous changes for this trip.

Lorenzo Insigne’s lob skimmed the far top corner and was almost an assist for Dries Mertens in the opening minutes, but Assan Ceesay turned a free header wide on Adrian Winter’s cross.

Insigne fired wide on the half-volley from a Piotr Zielinski assist, then had a double chance when the first attempt on a Simone Verdi knock-down was charged down and the rebound skimmed the crossbar.

Mertens got a flick on the Insigne free kick just before half-time and it forced a tough save out of Yanick Brecher, who at full stretch managed to palm it round the base of the far post.

Ounas had been very impressive throughout and he was instrumental for the opening goal. He cut inside from the right, dribbled past three and floated a ball to the back post for Verdi to score on the volley, hitting it into the ground. It was the ex-Bologna man’s first ever European goal.

Straight after the restart, Zurich wasted a golden opportunity to draw level, as Benjamin Kololli took on Elseid Hysaj and whipped in the cross for Salim Khelifi, who shinned his volley wide from seven yards when totally unmarked.

Faouzi Ghoulam was denied an obvious penalty when he nutmegged Winter and was felled in the box, but the referee incredibly waved play on. One shouldn’t even need VAR for such an incident.

Ounas forced a tough save with Brecher’s legs after a corner only grazed the head of Koulibaly, while teenage substitute Lavdim Zumberi’s powerful shot flashed just wide.

Ounas topped off a Man of the Match performance with a goal, as he ran on to the Mertens slide-rule pass and smashed in at the near post with his right foot.

Arkadiusz Milik came off the bench and aimed a spectacular swerving left-foot strike from distance, but it was met by an even better Brecher fingertip save to push it over the bar.

It should’ve been 3-0 in stoppages when Napoli went on the counter from a Zurich free kick, but Mertens rolled it across the face of goal and Milik sliding in failed to make contact from 30cm out.

Napoli 2-0 Zurich (5-1 agg)

Verdi 43 (N), Ounas 76 (N)

Napoli: Meret; Hysaj, Chiriches (Luperto 56), Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Ounas (Milik 77), Diawara, Zielinski (Allan 66), Verdi; Insigne, Mertens

FC Zurich: Brecher; Winter, Bangura, M Kryeziu, Kololli (Kharabadze 82); Khelifi, Sohm, Domgjoni, Schonbachler (Krasniqi 65); Odey (Zumberi 60), Ceesay

Ref: Sidiropoulos (GRE)

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