Napoli advanced to the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday, defeating Braga 2-0 and breaking a home hoodoo that had lasted more than two months.
Serder Saatci’s clumsy own goal and Victor Osimhen’s first strike since early October helped the Italian champions qualify second in Group C, behind Real Madrid.
Walter Mazzarri’s team would have advanced even with a single goal, but they comfortably advanced to the next round, ending a six-match winless record at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
A first win in Naples since defeating Udinese in late September ensured that Napoli finished the group stage with 10 points, six clear of Braga, who will be relegated to the Europa League.
“Our goal was to escape out of the group, which was not easy. “I believe we deserved to go through,” Napoli captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo told Sky.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we’re doing well.” It’s easy to focus on results, but the performances have been consistent.”
Mazzarri had pushed Napoli to be more sturdy after three defeats in his first four matches since taking over for the dismissed Rudi Garcia.
And he was pleased with how his team handled Braga, who came into the game unbeaten in five games 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,” Mazzarri went on to say.
“Let’s put it this way: we’ve begun. “I’m upbeat.”
Braga knew they needed to win by at least two goals to overtake Napoli, and Bruma squandered a fantastic opportunity to put the visitors ahead with only two minutes on the clock, blasting wide from close range following chaos in the Napoli area.
Napoli is victorious.
Their task was made even more harder in the ninth minute, when Saatci tripped over Matteo Politano’s low cross, sending the ball spinning towards his own goal.
Matheus, the Braga goalie, tried everything he could to keep the score even, but he could only claw the ball out after it had crossed the line.
Napoli pushed for a second, but a stunning Alex Meret save kept Braga at bay with a Ricardo Horta rocket from distance.
However, in the 33rd minute, Napoli’s entrance into the next round was practically guaranteed by newly-crowned African player of the year Osimhen.
The Nigeria striker was left gaping at Piotr Zielinski for not squaring to him when he was fully unmarked just yards from goal, instead smashing a shot straight at Matheus.
However, after bursting down the left flank, Natan played the right ball, allowing Osimhen to bundle in his seventh goal of what has been a difficult campaign in southern Italy thus far.
Osimhen’s first goal in this season’s Champions League meant Braga just needed four goals without reply to advance, and the relief was palpable both in the stands and on the pitch.
The only blemish was Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s persistent lack of form, with the out-of-sorts Georgian still failing to open his account in Europe’s top club league this season.
He will get another chance in the new year, thanks to a win that ended a painful run of three straight defeats and could restore some confidence to troubled Napoli.