Napoli beats Villarreal 2-0 in Champions League
Napoli's ''Three Tenors'' proved too much to handle in a 2-0 win over Villarreal on Tuesday that marked the Italian club's first home game in Europe's top competition since the heyday of Diego Maradona.
Marek Hamsik scored for Napoli in the 14th minute and Edinson Cavani doubled the lead with a penalty three minutes later as the southern club's long-suffering fans went wild inside the San Paolo stadium.
Ezequiel Lavezzi played a part in both goals, delivering a perfect cross to set up Hamsik with only the goalkeeper to beat, then drawing the penalty when Gonzalo Rodriguez resorted to tripping the Argentina forward.
Known as the ''Three Tenors,'' Hamsik, Lavezzi and Cavani have been at the center of Napoli's recent success, combining for 43 goals as the club finished third in Serie A last season.
Nine days ago, Cavani scored a hat trick in a 3-1 win over Italian champion AC Milan.
''The players have improved incredibly and I think that's due to the experience of last year,'' Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri said. ''They're more confident and more sure of themselves even though nearly all of them are playing the Champions League for the first time.''
Having drawn 1-1 at big-spending Manchester City in its Champions League debut, Napoli now has four points in the difficult Group A, while Villarreal still has zero after also losing to Bayern Munich in its opener.
Bayern leads the group with a full six points after beating City 2-0 in the other group match Tuesday, leaving the English side with one point.
''The score was more punishing than we deserved,'' Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido said.
''Unfortunately one player slipped inside the area and then another lost control of the ball and caused a penalty in the space of two minutes. It will probably be another three years before you see two errors like that happen again.''
Napoli last played in the old European Cup after Maradona led the club to Italian titles in 1987 and 1990.
The victory also gave Napoli a measure of revenge over its Spanish opponent, since Villarreal eliminated Napoli from the Europa League last season in the round of 32.
''I've said many times that Napoli is the best squad in Italy right now and a very dangerous opponent, but the match was marked by two episodes that penalized us,'' Garrido said.
With a near capacity crowd of 46,747, Napoli fans celebrated the occasion by setting off an overwhelming amount of smoke bombs during the playing of the Champions League theme music just before kickoff.
Fortunately, there was a stiff breeze blowing and the smoke cleared quickly, allowing the match to begin without delay.
Villarreal got off to the better start, with defender Cristian Zapata and midfielder Cani each missing attempts in the opening eight minutes, while Napoli didn't threaten until Lavezzi launched a shot over the bar from the edge of the area in the 12th.
A few minutes later, however, Napoli had a two-goal lead, and Villarreal didn't make much of a response for the rest of the half, with only a shot from Brazil forward Nilmar in the 27th to show for.
Two minutes into the second half, Cavani nearly added another goal but was caught offside with only the goalkeeper to beat.
In the 48th, Villarreal midfielder Jonathan De Guzman wasn't far off the target with a free kick from a tough angle.
Villarreal argued for a penalty when Italy forward Giuseppe Rossi was tripped in the 57th, but Belgian referee Frank De Bleeckere ruled that the foul occurred just outside the area and the ensuing free kick was blocked by Napoli's defenders.
Rossi, who started despite a bruised left knee, rarely threatened otherwise.
Cavani limped off with an apparent ankle problem in the 71st, while Hamsik and Lavezzi were each given standing ovations when they were substituted in the closing minutes.
After the final whistle, fans stayed in their seats to sing Neapolitan folk songs.
Napoli hosts Bayern in the next round of matches on Oct. 18 and Villarreal plays at City.