UEFA Champions League
Napoli, Benfica look ready to slay giants in Champions League quarterfinals
UEFA Champions League

Napoli, Benfica look ready to slay giants in Champions League quarterfinals

Updated Mar. 15, 2023 8:52 p.m. ET

Real Madrid and Napoli on became the final two teams to qualify for the quarterfinals of the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

Madrid, which won a record 14th European title last season, topped six-time champ Liverpool in Spain's capital. Real advanced 6-2 on aggregate after last month's 5-2 rout at Anfield. Karim Benzema sealed the Reds' fate with the lone goal late in Wednesday's rematch.  

In Italy, Napoli dispatched Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 on two goals by Victor Osimhen and another from Piotr Zieliński. The runaway Serie A leader took the first leg in Germany 2-0.  


Napoli and Real Madrid followed Manchester City and Inter Milan, which booked its tickets to the last eight on Tuesday. AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Benfica and Chelsea claimed quarterfinal spots last week. Friday's draw will determine the bracket for the next set of games, which will be played on April 11-12 and 18-19.   

Here are three quick thoughts on this week's round of 16 slate.  

Erling Haaland steals the show  

Truth be told, the lopsided first round results rendered both of Wednesday's matches mostly anticlimactic. Yet while Tuesday's two games held more intrigue, Manchester City was still widely expected to dispatch RB Leipzig at home following a 1-1 draw in the opener.  

What nobody expected — although nobody should be surprised — was for Erling Haaland to make history by scoring five goals, equaling the record Lionel Messi set in 2012.  

Haaland is unstoppable. He wasn't in the top three at FIFA's recent Best awards, with Messi, Benzema and Kylian Mbappé finishing ahead of him. But when it comes to the singular ability to score, which is after all the most valuable skill anyone in this sport can possess, the Norwegian is peerless. Haaland is on a record-setting pace in his first season in the Premier League with 28 goals in 26 appearances. His numbers in European play somehow are gaudier.

[Erling Haaland's record-breaking performance by the numbers]

With six Prem titles since 2012, Man City was England's preeminent team long before Haaland arrived last summer. But despite a few near misses, including being upset by Prem rival Chelsea in the 2021 finale, the Sky Blues haven't yet been able to seal the deal in the Champions League. From its state-backed ownership to manager Pep Guardiola to its all-world players to its fans, everyone associated with Man City is desperate for the club to win this competition. Haaland gives it its best chance yet.  

Where does Liverpool go from here?

Liverpool played well enough on Wednesday despite knowing that the series' outcome was all but sealed. They dominated Real Madrid for long stretches early in the first leg at home while running out to a 2-0 lead before imploding late in the first half and conceding five consecutive goals to the defending champs.  

But throughout this season's stay in the Champions League, Jürgen Klopp's team never looked anything like the one which reached three finals between 2018 and 2022, winning once. Maybe Sadio Mané, who left for Bayern last summer, was far more important than most on Merseyside and beyond realized. Maybe age is finally catching up with veterans like Jordan Henderson and even Mo Salah, who in June will turn 33 and 31, respectively. Whatever the reason, it sure looks like Liverpool, which sits sixth in England and trails Tottenham Hotspur by six points for the last spot in the 2023-24 Champions League, is firmly on the downward slope after briefly returning to the pinnacle of the European game.  

Don't sleep on Benfica and Napoli  

Real Madrid looks intent on retaining its crown, and only a fool would bet against them in a competition they've won twice as many times as the continent's next most successful club side.  

Bayern is also right there and, as noted earlier, Haaland could well be the missing piece for Man City. AC Milan and Chelsea both have multiple Champions Leagues triumphs in this century. Inter Milan won the club game's most coveted prize in 2010.  

Which is to say that of the eight teams still standing, the ones that seem least likely to progress are easy to spot: Benfica and Napoli. Don't be so sure. While Napoli has never progressed to this stage before, the consistency of Luciano Spalletti's team all year in domestic play suggests they could be legitimate contenders. Despite its storied European history, Benfica hasn't reached the final since 1990 (it won the second of its two titles way back in 1962). But it has also been quietly ruthless in this tourney so far.   

Both remain longshots to win it all. Whether they reach the last four hinges largely on the opponent they're drawn against. Still, few would've predicted Benfica or Napoli to make it to this stage ahead of rivals like Dortmund, Tottenham or Paris Saint-Germain.  

Neither will go quietly no matter the foe.   

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

Top stories from FOX Sports:


Get more from UEFA Champions League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more