Napoli gave Manchester City a reality check by holding the big-spending English club to a 1-1 draw in a match between two Champions League debutantes on Wednesday.
City’s expensively assembled team has powered to four successive wins in the Premier League but needed a superb 74th-minute free kick by Serbia left back Aleksandar Kolarov to rescue a point in an entertaining Group A game.
Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani had put Napoli ahead five minutes earlier, finishing off a flowing counterattack with a low finish, and the Italian side was worthy of a point in its first match back among Europe’s elite since 1990 – when Argentina great Diego Maradona was in its squad.
”We struggled in the first half (but) in the second half we started to played like we know how to and we even had chances to score a second goal,” said Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri, whose side was playing just its second match this season. ”We could have closed the match, that’s the only regret.”
Even though City had to go back to 1968 for its last match at this level, Roberto Mancini’s star-studded side was still being considered among the favorites to win Europe’s premier club competition.
City did strike the woodwork twice, through Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure and Argentina striker Sergio Aguero, but never stamped its authority on the match as it has done domestically this season.
”We left Napoli too much space and they’re dangerous on the counterattack,” Mancini said. ”We were less precise than in our other matches, but I’m content with the team’s performance.
”We know the Champions League is difficult but we started well and now we must win in (Bayern) Munich in our next game.”
City has already scored 15 goals in the Premier League but Napoli was never going to be a pushover.
The visitors’ defending was last-ditch at times in the first half but they looked dangerous going forward, with Argentina striker Ezequiel Lavezzi striking the bar with a curling shot from 18 yards (meters) in the 17th minute.
However, most of the action took place at the other end, with Edin Dzeko crashing a shot just wide in the 13th and Toure running onto Aguero’s lay-off to smash a fierce shot against the bar in the 34th.
”We should maybe have scored a goal or two in the first half and it would not have been so difficult in the second,” City captain Vincent Kompany said.
City became increasingly ragged in defense after the break and was given an early scare in the 49th when Slovakia midfielder Marek Hamsik met a looping cross with a volley that was cleared off the line by the retreating Kompany.
Another Hamsik shot deflected off City defender Pablo Zabaleta and span just over but the visitors weren’t to be denied.
After Gareth Barry lost possession inside Napoli’s half, Christian Maggio set off on a long run that carved open the defense before slipping in Cavani, who slotted his finish between goalkeeper Joe Hart’s legs from 12 yards (meters).
City’s response was immediate, Aguero sidefooting against the bar moments before Kolarov whipped in a precise 25-yard free kick at the near post, with Morgan De Sanctis motionless.
Dzeko spurned an excellent chance in the 78th when he span inside the penalty area and screwed a left-foot shot wide, as City had to settle for a point at Eastlands.
”We’ll just learn from this game and we have a good enough team to see this through,” Kompany said.
The atmosphere was much more celebratory in the Napoli squad.
”It’s a draw that’s like a victory,” said Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis.