Napoli KO Wolfsburg from Europa; Fiorentina punch semifinal ticket
Napoli advanced to the Europa League semifinals on Thursday evening, with a 2-2 draw against Wolfsburg seeing Rafael Benitez’s side progress 6-3 on aggregate.
Second-half goals from Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens looked to have put the Serie A outfit out of sight after their 4-1 first-leg triumph in Germany last Thursday. Timm Klose and Ivan Perisic scored in the space of three minutes to make the scoreline more respectable, but that was as good as it got for the Bundesliga side.
Dieter Hecking’s men had headed to the Stadio San Paolo knowing they had it all to do, and without midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and forward Andre Schurrle after the pair picked up injuries at the weekend. They started on the front foot, though.
Home goalkeeper Mariano Andujar had to be alert in the opening minute to preserve his side’s three-goal cushion, clawing the ball away after Perisic’s effort went into the ground and looped dangerously goalwards. The visitors continued to have the lion’s share of the chances as the half wore on.
Christian Trasch lashed wide on 19 minutes, and Nicklas Bendtner rose highest at far post just after the half-hour mark but directed his header wide. The Denmark forward had another chance in the 41st minute when he burst into the penalty area and got his left-footed shot away from the left corner of the six-yard box, but Andujar got down well and got a strong left hand to it.
Napoli’s first opportunity arrived just before the interval, Gonzalo Higuain dispatching a well-struck left-footed volley just wide from Faouzi Ghoulam’s cross. The hosts were altogether brighter at the start of the second period, and could have taken the lead within two minutes of the restart when Mertens curled one just wide with Callejon inches away from connecting with the header.
Two minutes later, however, the tie looked to have been put to bed. Higuain sprayed a splendid left-footed pass to Callejon, who closed in on goal before unleashing a long-range shot which was deflected past Diego Benaglio by defender Ricardo Rodriguez. Mertens played Callejon in again moments later, but Benaglio was off his line quickly and made the block.
Lorenzo Insigne was introduced by Benitez in place of Marek Hamsik on the hour mark, and was soon involved in Napoli’s second goal of the night. His cross from the left was cushioned down by Higuain for Mertens, who beat Benaglio at the second attempt with a neat, instinctive finish.
Klose gave the Wolves a glimmer of hope by powering a fine header past Andujar from a corner on 71 minutes and Perisic spurred the visitors even further moments later when he nodded home a Josuha Guilavogui cross, getting a boot in the face for his troubles. Hecking’s men could make no further inroads, though, as Napoli saw the game out to reach the semifinals of a major European competition for the first time since 1989.
Mario Gomez and Juan Manuel Vargas got the goals as Fiorentina made sure of a place in the Europa League semifinals after Gomez netted in the 43rd minute before substitute Vargas capped the success in injury time as the Serie A side sealed a 2-0 victory over Dynamo Kiev — and a 3-1 aggregate success.
Fiorentina were on top for much of the contest at Stadio Artemio Franchi, thoroughly deserving to make sure of their place in Friday’s draw. The hosts came close to scoring four times in the opening 10 minutes.
Barely 90 seconds had passed when Gomez just failed to get on the end of a Joaquin cross at the far post. The hosts had the ball in the net inside five minutes after Dynamo goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy spilled a long-range shot from Borja Valero – but Gomez, who tapped the rebound in from close range, was clearly offside.
Mo Salah brought a good save out of Shovkovskiy in the ninth minute, then Marcos Alonso hit the bar. The pressure continued. Gomez slipped as he shot, then headed wide from three yards out, before Stefan Savic brought a good low save out of Shovkovskiy.
Dynamo’s hopes were not helped by the dismissal of Jeremain Lens. Booked in the 14th minute for fouling Matias Fernandez, he received a second yellow card from referee Jonas Eriksson for simulation, going to ground just inside the home penalty box under a challenge from Gonzalo Rodriguez. Fiorentina opened the scoring when Gomez bundled in Joaquin’s cross for his 40th goal in European club football – the only Germans with more are Gerd Muller (62), Jupp Heynckes (45) and Ulf Kirsten (43).
The one-sided nature continued in the second half with Salah seeing a shot apparently handled on to a post by Dynamo defender Danilo Silva, before Fernandez and Joaquin shot narrowly wide. The visitors only threatened in the closing stages, forcing their first corner in the 85th minute and seeing Sergiy Rybalka force a good save from Neto, before Savic blocked an injury-time effort from Andriy Yarmolenko.
Peruvian Vargas, an 88th-minute replacement for Salah, ended any doubts about the outcome in the fourth minute of time added on when he blasted in left-footed from eight yards.