Torino hit the woodwork twice and forced several tough saves, but Napoli won at the last minute with Gonzalo Higuain.
Rafa Benitez kept squad rotation to a minimum between Europa League Round of 16 ties with Porto, forced to do without Christian Maggio after emergency surgery for a collapsed lung, while Juan Camilo Zuniga and Rafael were long-term absentees. Instead, Toro boss Giampiero Ventura caused a huge shock by dropping both star strikers Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci after three consecutive defeats without a goal, while Panagiotis Tachtsidis stepped in for the suspended Giuseppe Vives. It was a special game for Omar El Kaddouri, who is co-owned between the two clubs, while Cesare Bovo, Kamil Glik and Nikola Maksimovic returned from bans.
Napoli’s last defeat in this fixture was back in 2008 and last season it was a spectacular 5-3 result.
Dries Mertens caused problems down the Toro right from the start and Daniele Padelli rushed out to smother at Gonzalo Higuain’s feet from a smart Jose Callejon through ball.
The hosts focused on the counter-attack, but wasted two promising situations with misplaced Jasmin Kurtic and El Kaddouri passes. They did get a great chance on 19 minutes when Riccardo Meggiorini’s half-volley was beaten away by Pepe Reina with some difficulty.
Callejon created another excellent opportunity for Higuain when bursting down the right to roll across the face of goal, but Pipita couldn’t get there in time for the tap-in.
Torino were growing in confidence and on 28 minutes Bovo unleashed an absolute screamer from over 25 metres that smacked against the top of the near post with Reina well beaten.
Gokhan Inler tried a similar attempt, but it was well wide. After the restart El Kaddouri squirmed between Azzurri jerseys and tested Reina from outside the box, but Napoli finally sprung into life with a series of attempts.
First Meggiorini had to act as a defender to intercept Faouzi Ghoulam’s dangerous cross for Higuain, who then forced Daniele Padelli to beat away a snapshot from distance and a diving header.
However, moments later Torino hit the woodwork for the second time, as Meggiorini sprung the offside trap to thump the near post one-on-one with Reina.
The Napoli goalkeeper flew soon after for a one-handed save to stop Matteo Darmian’s blockbuster dipping under the bar.
Native Neapolitan Immobile was finally introduced, but Glik was booked for hacking down Mertens right on the edge of the box. It was a very promising position for a free kick, but Higuain slipped as he was taking it and ballooned off target.
Immobile drilled wide after the visitors lost possession, then forced Reina to parry with his legs at the near post after sprinting down the left.
Immobile wasted an absolutely golden opportunity on 72 minutes, as Kurtic snuck up on Valon Behrami to win back the ball and rolled across for the unmarked striker to balloon over the bar from 12 yards.
Jorginho’s strike was somewhere between a shot and a cross for Higuain, achieving neither objective. Mertens was Napoli’s most impressive player and cut in from the left for a fierce strike that Padelli palmed round the base of the far post.
From that corner, Mertens unleashed another rocket that stung Padelli’s gloves under the bar, then soon after his finish from a similar position was off target.
In the final minute Napoli broke the deadlock. Higuain crossed paths with Glik and the defender tripped up, but the referee did not consider it to be a foul and Pipita went clear to blast his finish under Padelli’s body. The Granata were furious, claiming Higuain had tripped Glik on purpose.
Cerci’s free kick flew over the bar in stoppages and the final whistle was greeted by deafening jeers from the home crowd.
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