Napoli have missed out on the Champions League group stages in the most stunning fashion after conceding three goals in the space of 13 minutes against Athletic club. After failing to reach the Champions League group stages through automatic qualification spots, Napoli have had to play in the play-off against Spanish club Athletic. This was viewed as a tough encounter given that Athletic also have the experience of playing in the Champions League proper. The first leg at Napoli was an even affair and it finished as a 1-1 draw, which gave Athletic an advantage of the away goal.
Napoli cancelled out the away goal in the return leg after midfielder Marek Hamsik scored just minutes into the second half. Just when it seemed that Napoli would hang on and reach the group stages, Athletic had a stunning 50 minutes in which they scored three goals. Aduriz scored a brace during this period while Ibai’s goal in the 74th minute put the result beyond doubt. After the match, Napoli boss Rafa Benitez has had to face a barrage of criticism. Accepting the blame, the manager said that he did not want to blame his players for this defeat.
Napoli will be hoping that the lack of Champions League will motivate them towards a potential league title. The team start the league campaign with an away match against Genoa.
“Athletic deserved to score in the first half and didn’t. We took the lead, but in a few minutes we made some important mistakes and lost control of the game. We made mistakes on all three goals. Those goals allowed Athletic to gain confidence and we lost ours. Do I blame anyone? No, mistakes happen – they are not normal, but they happened anyway. We had worked over the week on specifics like corners, but we still made mistakes and clearly we still have work to do,” said Benitez.