Saving Napoli

The confrontation between Napoli and Barcelona in the 1/8 finals of the Champions League promised to be one of the most intriguing, even though none of them were clearly among the favorites of the championship.

Moreover, by the end of February, the reigning champion of Italy and the permanent grandee of Spanish football were in extremely serious condition.

Moreover, the Neapolitans especially “distinguished themselves.”

Not only were they only in tenth position in Serie A, but they also changed their coach a few days before the start of the playoffs.

And if the arrival of Walter Mazzarri to replace Luciano Spalletti raised serious questions, then the invitation of Francesco Calzona shocked many.

After all, previously the 55-year-old not only had never held the position of head coach at the club, but was also forced to combine two posts at once.

After all, at the same moment he was leading the Slovak national team.

Largely thanks to the extremely strange decision of the Napoli management, Barcelona's chances of reaching the quarter finals began to be perceived as much higher than a couple of weeks ago.

Left aside were both talks about the Catalans' crisis and Xavi's imminent departure from the post of head coach, which caused a huge resonance.

As Diario Sport reported, the athletes themselves have increased their self-confidence, outraged by the decision of some to write them off.

And against the backdrop of Napoli, the statements of the Barcelona players seemed not so groundless.

At the start of the match, the Catalans really looked better: they applied great pressure, defended well and periodically found gaps in the opponent’s defense.

In one episode, the youngest participant in the Champions League playoffs in history, Lamin Yamal (16 years 223 days), took the shooting position, but Alex Meret easily coped with a long-range “shot,” and in another, Robert Lewandowski again demonstrated his problems with implementation.

The Pole had a great opening on the edge of the goalkeeper's area, but shot weakly and inaccurately.

And even though closer to the break the hosts began to act a little more actively and even caught up with the guests in terms of percentage of possession, they looked unconvincing against their background.

Yes, Barcelona itself did not have 100 percent chances, but at least it made seven shots on goal, three of which were on target.

Napoli did not bother Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who had recently recovered from injury, although Khvicha Kvaratskhelia came close to doing so several times.

The same cannot be said about Victor Osimhen.

He clearly had not fully recovered from the muscle damage and was not in the best shape.

After the break, Barcelona regained the initiative and continued to press.

And if Ilkay Gundogan did not take advantage of his chances, Lewandowski finally reminded why four years ago he was considered the main contender for the Ballon d'Or.

The Pole again freed himself from guarding in the penalty area, responded to Pedri's pass and fired an irresistible low shot.

And he became the oldest scorer of a Blaugrana goal in the Champions League.

Calzona decided to liven up his team a little.

But to the surprise of many, he decided to remove not Osimhen, but Kvaratskhelia.

Jens Cajuste went on vacation with the Georgian winger, and their places were taken by Jesper Lindström and Hamed Traore.

And to some extent, the mentor was right.

After all, it was the Nigerian he left on the field who effectively processed Andre Zambo Anguissa's pass, turned around and left Ter Stegen out of action.

And immediately after that he went to the bench.

And in the absence of Osimhen, the Neapolitans did not even attempt to snatch victory.

Giovanni Simeone and Giacomo Raspadori, who were thrown into the battle, were not remembered for anything interesting, and in the end the hosts almost missed out on a draw.

In the final seconds, Gundogan had an excellent opportunity to spoil the mood of the local fans, but missed the bottom corner with a long-range shot.

Barcelona and Napoli scored once each and postponed the showdown until the answer.

  • Napoli forward Victor Osimhen


  • © Anadolu / Contributor

Miracle goal Galeno

In turn, few doubted Arsenal’s success in the two-game confrontation with Porto.

This is despite the fact that the Gunners last made it past the first round of the Champions League knockout round in 2010, after which they stumbled eight times in a row at the first stage.

The same cannot be said about the “dragons,” who, although sometimes, still passed on.

For example, three years ago they sensationally crushed Juventus in the 1/8 finals, and in 2019 they defeated Roma.

However, Mikel Arteta was not at all worried about such statistics.

As the specialist admitted, some of his players have virtually no experience of performing at these stages of the European Cup, and he himself has not previously led the team to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

But he assured that in the current situation the past does not matter and expressed confidence in the ability of the Londoners to break the unsuccessful streak.

And no one doubted her.

After all, in the last five meetings, the “gunners” looked phenomenal and won with a total score of 21:2.

However, the start of the match turned out to be extremely difficult for Arsenal.

Yes, the guests controlled the ball almost continuously, but they failed to create anything dangerous near Diogo Costa’s goal.

But they themselves almost found themselves in the role of catching up.

Evanilson missed a great chance.

The Brazilian responded to Francisco Conceicao's cross from the flank and fired twice in a row from close range.

But the first time he hit the post, and a split second later he missed the target.

Thus, after 30 minutes, Arsenal did not have a single shot towards the goal, while Porto had already accumulated 0.93 expected goals (xG).

And although the guests still carried out several good attacks before the break, and William Saliba almost scored after a corner, Arteta was hardly happy with his players.

After all, they clearly failed to break through the massive defense of their opponents.

The second half turned out to be even less eventful than the first.

Arsenal continued to fight against the Porto defense, but could not advance further.

In 45 minutes, the vaunted attack of the Londoners was marked by only three shots towards the goal, but none of them reached Costa.

Moreover, the last two were inflicted already in stoppage time.

But if Gabriel Magalhaes and Martin Odegaard did not succeed, Wenderson Galeno did the incredible.

In the 94th minute, the Brazilian winger received the ball on his favorite left flank, moved to the center and, to everyone's surprise, struck exactly into the far top corner.

David Raya, who moved to the near post, tried to save his team with a desperate jump, but was powerless.

“Porto” sensationally beat “Arsenal” on their own field and increased the intrigue in the confrontation to the limit.

  • Porto forward Wenderson Galeno


  • © Bradley Collyer - PA Images/Contributor