With most of the work done in Germany a week ago, Napoli cruised into the final four of the Europa League after they defeated Wolfsburg 6-3 on aggregate, following a 2-2 draw in Italy.
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The writing was practically on the wall before the second leg even kicked off in the intimidating atmosphere that makes Stadio San Paolo a cauldron that few visitors emerge from with victory. Nevertheless, Rafael Benitez would have been sure to remind his players that their opponents are still Bayern Munich’s nearest challengers in the Bundesliga.
If their task wasn’t difficult enough, however, Wolfsburg would have to overturn the three goal deficit – and score four times due to the away goals – without Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schurrle.
Unsurprisingly, it was the German side that created the opening chances. Within the first minute, Mariano Andujar was forced into a save, after a shot from Ivan Perisic had the Argentinian scampering across his goal. Despite the pressure – which lasted for much of the first half – their opening effort was their last real chance before the break. Nicklas Bendtner saw very little of the ball, as the Serie A side remained well organised throughout.
But their performance was obviously not good enough for Benitez, as his team looked to take the initiative from the start of the second half.
They were rewarded five minutes after the interval when Jose Callejon’s deflected effort lifted itself over Diego Benaglio, after a ruthlessly fast counter attack.
Just after the hour, Napoli doubled their lead on the night. Dries Mertens – so dynamic in their second half display – took two attempts to convert a chance from around eight yards out.
But Wolfsburg staged a mini-fightback on the night, with two headers. Firstly, Timm Klose got ahead of his marker at a corner. Silence befell the San Paolo, not even the most optimistic of fans decided to celebrate the goal.
There was a little more urgency however, when Perisic levelled the game on the night. He took a kick in the face as he dipped to get to the ball first. The goal may have been irrelevant in the end, but it infuriated Benitez, as complacency once again crept into his side’s performance.
The final whistle confirmed what has been on the cards for the last seven days. Napoli join Sevilla, Fiorentina, and Dnipro in the final four of the competition.