Naples: Napoli reached the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday after seeing off Braga 2-0 and ending a home hoodoo which had stretched back more than two months.
The Italian champions qualified second in Group C behind Real Madrid thanks to Serder Saatci’s clumsy own goal and Victor Osimhen’s first strike since early October, both which came in the first half.
Walter Mazzarri’s side would have got through even with a single-goal defeat but in the end comfortably qualified for the next round, snapping a six-match winless streak at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
A first win in Naples since beating Udinese there in late September made sure that Napoli finished the group stage on 10 points, six ahead of Braga who drop down to the Europa League.
“It was our goal to get out of the group, which wasn’t easy. I think we can say that we deserved to go through,” Napoli captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo told Sky.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re playing well. It’s easy to look at results but the performances have been there.”
After three defeats from his first four matches at the helm since returning in place of the sacked Rudi Garcia, Mazzarri had asked for Napoli to be more solid.
And he was satisfied with the way his team dealt with a Braga team who were unbeaten in five coming into the match and are two points behind league leaders Sporting Lisbon in Portugal.
“We weren’t perfect but compared to how things were ... I’m pretty satisfied,” said Mazzarri.
“We’ve started now, let’s put it like that. I’m optimistic.”
Braga knew that they had to win by at least two goals in order to leapfrog Napoli and Bruma wasted a great chance to put the away side into the lead with just two minutes on the clock, lashing wide from close range after confusion in the Napoli area.
However their task was made that much more difficult in the ninth minute, when the unfortunate Saatci tripped over Matteo Politano’s low cross and sent the ball spinning towards his own goal.
Braga goalkeeper Matheus did his best to keep the scores level but could only claw the ball out after it had already crossed the line.
Napoli pushed for a second but had a superb Alex Meret save to thank for Braga not pulling level with a Ricardo Horta rocket from distance.
However in the 33rd minute newly-crowned African player of the year Osimhen effectively sealed Napoli’s passage into the next round.
Wave of relief
Moments before the Nigeria striker was left open-mouthed at Piotr Zielinski not squaring to him when he was completely unmarked just yards from goal, opting instead to smash a shot straight at Matheus.
But this time Natan played the right pass after bursting down the left flank and allowed Osimhen to bundle in his seventh goal of what has been a difficult campaign to date in southern Italy.
Osimhen’s first goal in this season’s Champions League left Braga needing to score four goals without reply to get through and the wave of relief was tangible both in the stands and on the pitch.
The only negative note was Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s continued struggle for form, the out-of-sorts Georgian yet to open his account in Europe’s top club competition this term.
However he will have another chance in the new year thanks to a win which broke a painful run of three straight losses and could bring some confidence back to troubled Napoli.