The UEFA Champions League has reached the business end of the competition. It's knockout football. There is no margin for error, there can be no more slip-ups. Ahead of the round of 16, we take a closer look at how Napoli made it through the group stage and assess their chances of marching into the quarter-finals.
With their place in the knockout stage on the line, the Neapolitans sealed qualification for the Round of 16 on Matchday 6 with an impressive victory over Benfica in Lisbon. A 2-1 victory at the Stadium of Light saw them qualify as group-winners, but the joy was short-lived as they drew reigning champions Real Madrid.
The most thrilling night of Napoli’s journey so far arrived as seven fabulous minutes in Naples brought three goals en route to a spectacular 4-2 victory over Benfica. Leading by a single goal at half-time, The 51st minute saw the floodgates open as Dries Mertens struck twice, either side of a Arkadiusz Milik penalty, as the hosts raced to a four-goal lead before the hour mark.
Fanatical home support has long made the San Paolo one of the most daunting away trips in UEFA competition, but coach Maurizio Sarri was well aware that his side would have to improve on the road if they were to enjoy a productive UCL campaign. Victories in Lisbon in and Kiev will no doubt have quelled his early concerns.
A serious knee injury suffered by Milik while on international duty with Poland in October had threatened to derail Napoli’s entire season, but instead it saw the birth of an exciting new hero in Naples. Mertens was moved central to compensate and cannot stop scoring, transforming himself from a talent on the periphery to one of the form players in world football. The club’s leading UCL scorer this season with four goals, Naples has a new king.
Winning your group rarely sees you pitted against the reigning champions, particularly not Real Madrid. Sarri’s men face a difficult task to make the quarter-finals, even if Real Madrid are indeed without injury-doubt Gareth Bale. A good showing in the Spanish capital will be vital to their chances. If they can get something there, the San Paolo could be primed for a famous night.