As footballing examinations go, they scarcely come more exacting. Maurizio Sarri has passed his Serie A test with flying colours, but a trip to the Bernabeu in the Champions League is the game’s equivalent of aiming for first class honours at Oxbridge. After 90 gripping minutes in Madrid, he at least has a chance of a resit in Naples next month.
The game was a classic example of the conundrum currently facing Italian sides, as the power of their domestic league has waned. The Partenopei’s bread and butter are matches where opponents are prepared to let them take the initiative and strike on the break. A visit to the reigning European champions is something else entirely.
What will have pleased their Coach is that his side stuck to its tactical guns. They refused to cover up and tried to play their way out of trouble against a high press. They paid for it once - with a Casemiro thunderbolt - but that did not seem to dim their conviction. It is a quality they will need in abundance for the return leg.
It all began so pleasingly. A neat move put Lorenzo Insigne through and he channelled his inner Diego Armando Maradona to deliver a finish that combined impudence and anticipation in equal measure. Thousands of Neapolitans in the ground dared to dream.
But football is a cruel crusher of hope and Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos struck before Casemiro’s belter. Zinedine Zidane’s men spurned chances to put the two-leg outcome entirely beyond doubt - something they might just be made to regret. Elsewhere, Bayern Munich were showing them how you kill off a tie.
Indeed, for those who like to clutch at patriotic straws, there was the odd chance of Napoli sneaking a 3-2 defeat which would have been even more turnaroundable - if I can invent that word. Dries Mertens hurried a couple of chances he would surely have taken on home soil and Jose Callejon had a goal chalked off, correctly, for offside. That might have given CR7 and company a few more sleepless moments between now and the clash in Italy.
There was just enough evidence - at least for the eternally optimistic - that the Serie A outfit could still progress to the quarter-finals, but it will take an almighty effort. Real Madrid switched off for spells of the match, but you have to make those moments count. And, of course, the danger is that anything less than perfection on your part will be pounced upon by a predatory opponent.
In some ways, a tough upcoming fixture list might help Napoli tune up to produce what will have to be their display of the season so far. After Chievo at the weekend, they have enterprising Atalanta followed by a cup clash with Juventus and a league trip to Roma before rejoining battle with their Spanish adversaries.
They have studied long and hard for this and, in three weeks’ time, they will have to prove it.