Napoli are victorious in Spain tonight, securing a 2-0 victory over Villarreal to see them through to the Champions League knockout round. Gokhan Inler sent in a stunner to put the Italians up in the 65th minute, while Marek Hamsik secured the win with a tap-in 11 minutes later. The partenopei take second place in Group A, joining Bayern Munich in the next round. Manchester City drop down to the Europa League, despite their 2-0 victory over Bayern, and Villarreal end with no points, the first time a Spanish club in the competition has done so.
The first half of the match was frustrating, as it appeared that the Yellow Submarine were more intent on emulating a big yellow bus rather than their amphibious namesake. The home side looked determined to fetch at least a point from their final match, defending in numbers, although Napoli weren't exactly giving them a lot to deal with. The visitors looked like deer caught in the headlights, overwhelmed at the idea that they absolutely needed a win to go through to the next round, especially after City went up in the first half.
But whatever manager Walter Mazzarri said to them at halftime must have worked, because Napoli took to the pitch in the second half looking revitalized. Unfortunately for the partenopei, their manager wasn't long for the world, or at least, the match, with Mazzarri being sent off less than ten minutes after the restart. That only seemed to fire up the visitors, however, with Inler scoring soon after. Despite the fact that the Swiss had been one of the worst players on the pitch, he managed an incredible strike from just outside the area, sending it over Diego Lopez and into the back of the net.
Just one wasn't enough for Napoli, however -- it rarely is. Just minutes after the Inler goal, Ezequiel Lavezzi very nearly scored a second, forcing Diego Lopez to wrap himself around the post and push the ball away. The azzurri pressure continued, eventually forcing a mistake from the goalkeeper. The ball bounced around the area, Diego Lopez lunged to his right, but it was too late as Hamsik toed the ball in to give Napoli their second.
Bring on January, Napoli. In order to progress further in the Champions League, this squad is going to need some reinforcing. But first, let Naples celebrate. They've been waiting too long for this.