While in the Champions League all Italian sides made it through to the knockout stages, there was a fear that in the Europa League there would be no Serie A teams. Luckily, Napoli managed to qualify with a 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest, thanks to a very late goal by Cavani. And there was more good news for Italian sides around the world, Inter Milan were victorious in their semi-final of the World Club Cup, and they’ll be playing African champions TP Mazembe in the final of the tournament.
Napoli desperately needed a win at the Stadio San Paolo, or else they would not qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League. But Steaua Bucharest came to defend with grit, staying turtled up in their own half, soaking up Napoli’s pressure, and then striking on the counter-attack. Napoli did their best, pushing well on the flanks and through the middle, eventually creating a great opportunity which Cavani put over the bar. Steaua had opportunities to score as well, and going into halftime, the two teams were fairly even.
The second half continued like the first, with Napoli slowly chipping away at the resolute Romanian side. Walter Mazzari’s team created more and more chances, with Cavani even hitting the post. The ending became more and more tense, with insults being thrown to and fro from players on the field to the ones on the benches. Both Steaua and Napoli were getting frustrated, creating goalscoring chances which weren’t finished properly or were saved by a pair of outstanding goalkeepers. Yet Napoli believed until the very end, and in the 92nd minute of the match Edinson Cavani scored what he calls, “a miracle goal”. The young Uruguayan managed to flick a corner from the near post with his head, sending Napoli through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League. Yet the tension was still high, and Paolo Cannavaro got sent off before the final whistle after receiving a second yellow card.
The other Italian sides did surprisingly well considering their previous poor form in the Europa League. Palermo defeated Lusanne Sports 1-0 away from home thanks to a late goal from Munoz, and Juventus got a good 1-1 draw against Manchester City, with some youngsters on display for the crowd at the Stadio Olimpico. Sampdoria though weren’t able to win or draw away against Debrecen, and lost 2-0. It’s nice that Napoli have managed to qualify for the round of 16, and hopefully they’ll receive a good draw and go deep in the tournament.
Inter Milan were in Abu Dhabi, where they defeated Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa 3-0. This victory was an important one for Rafa Benitez, because the team is slowly recovering from injuries positively, especially Diego Milito who scored and assisted the other two goals. However there was a slight setback for Inter in this match; in the first minutes Wesley Sneijder received a tough tackle and had to be replaced. He won’t be able to make the final, which will be played against TP Mazembe, the first African side ever to reach the FIFA World Club Cup final.
The final is being played this Saturday, and while some don’t really consider this tournament as very important, if Rafa Benitez could manage to win it, it could be a turning point for his team. There have been many doubts over whether Benitez would stay much longer at Inter, and it seems like Massimo Moratti has calmed the voices by prasing the Spaniard regarding the team’s performance. But no matter how much praise Moratti heaps on Benitez, the president wants the coach to win this tournament, and transfer the momentum to the Serie A and Champions League campaigns.
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