Maurizio Sarri insists Napoli “dominated Real Madrid for 55 minutes and are not too far off being competitive at this level. We have reason to be hopeful.”
The Partenopei were leading in both legs of this Champions League Round of 16 tie, but eventually lost both by a 3-1 scoreline.
Dries Mertens saw his opener wiped out by two Sergio Ramos headers from corners in the space of six minutes.
“We are talking about Sergio Ramos, who is world class in these situations. He scores seven or eight of these every season, so it’s a situation that can happen whether he’s man-marked or in zonal marking,” Sarri told Mediaset Premium.
“In physical terms, we do have to give something up to these teams and can become vulnerable. Either we do like the first half, and keep them well away from our box, or that becomes a problem.
“We played 55 very good minutes, but to maintain that tempo we needed more enthusiasm and those two goals sapped it out of us. With those two goals, the qualification became impossible and at that point, without an objective, we lost our way.
“We get the feeling we are not that far off, as we dominated the best team in the world for 55 minutes. If we can grow, become more physical, then we can become competitive at this level too.
“It’s a young squad, it has a bright future ahead of it. That final step is the hardest, but I get the feeling we can do it.
“Real Madrid are a very strong side, you need a lot of luck to keep the tie open and a bit of luck on the upright to put us 2-0 up would’ve given us more fuel.
“It would’ve been tough anyway against the reigning champions of Europe and the World, but having dominated them for 55 minutes gives us hope for the future.
“In general we don’t have a very tall squad, not a physically imposing one, so when there is that difference you can be barged aside without it being a foul.
“We pinned them back into their own half, but to keep that up we needed more enthusiasm and the two goals robbed us of that. Unfortunately if you have players with our technical quality and also physical strength, they’ll cost €120m.
“If we look at the game and forget the bitterness of the result, there is reason to be hopeful for the future. The fact we proved for 55 minutes that we can play at the highest level must be a boost of confidence for this side.”