Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and Piotr Zielinski gave Napoli a 3-1 victory away to FC Zurich, putting them in a strong position to reach the Europa League Round of 16.
The Partenopei dropped down from the Champions League to the Europa League, Carlo Ancelotti’s first ever participation in this tournament, but Dries Mertens was not 100 per cent fit and left in the stands, with Mario Rui, Raul Albiol and Simone Verdi injured. Marek Hamsik completed his transfer to Dalian Yifang earlier today, but Ancelotti confirmed the importance of this competition by fielding almost a full-strength squad. FC Zurich missed Izer Aliu, Pa Modou, Kevin Ruegg, but started Joel Untersee, who arrived in January on loan from Juventus via Empoli.
There was tension before the match with a group of Napoli fans attacked in the city, then in the opening minutes Faouzi Ghoulam couldn’t take a corner because he was being pelted with lighters.
Napoli dominated possession early doors and took the lead when Arkadiusz Milik pounced on a poor back-pass and even worse first touch from the goalkeeper, pulling back for Lorenzo Insigne’s tap-in. It was the Partenopei’s first away goal in all competition since December, a run of four games.
Stephen Odey and Benjamin Kololli failed to make the most of defensive errors, while Brecher flew for a fingertip save on Insigne’s curler.
Jose Callejon doubled their advantage, as Insigne completely missed Kevin Malcuit’s cross from the right, but the Spaniard was right behind him to get the decisive finish.
Piotr Zielinski’s glancing header on Ghoulam’s cross whistled wide of the far post and Milik’s scorcher from distance stung Brecher’s gloves.
The second half started on similar terms, with Zielinski’s shot charged down and the Callejon follow up parried at the back post. Malcuit ran a big risk with his tackle from behind on Kololli inside the penalty area, but the referee waved play on, then substitute Antonio Marchesano fired wide after Allan was caught in possession.
Substitute Assan Ceesay hit the side-netting from a very tight angle, but Milik had two chances in quick succession with a crucial interception on the Malcuit assist, then stinging Brecher’s gloves as he got away from defenders and on the resulting corner Kalidou Koulibaly’s header was palmed over the bar.
Zielinski got the third goal with a splendid solo effort, as he gathered Callejon’s low cross, with a dummy left two defenders on their backsides and fired in from a tight angle.
Marchesano wasted Zurich’s best chance of the game moments later, firing over first time from 12 yards after a Kryeziu back-heel flick.
Zurich were awarded a very soft penalty, as on a corner the ball was headed on to Nikola Maksimovic’s arm, which was flat against his hip, by Alain Nef. Benjamin Kololli stepped up and converted with a cheeky Panenka chip.
Napoli were perhaps a little too comfortable, because they ran a huge risk of conceding a second in stoppages. Kryeziu’s volley ricocheted off the underside of the bar and Meret flung himself in the path of the acrobatic Khelifi follow-up.
Adam Ounas almost added a fourth with the last kick of the game, on the counter drawing a desperate save out of Brecher.
Zurich 1-3 Napoli
Insigne 11 (N), Callejon 21 (N), Zielinski 77 (N), Kololli pen 83 (Z)
FC Zurich: Brecher; Nef, Bangura, Maksø; Untersee, H Kryeziu, Domgjoni (Marchesano 46), Kharabadze; Winter (Ceesay 67), Odey (Khelifi 80), Kololli
Napoli: Meret; Malcuit, Maksimovic, Koulibaly, Ghoulam (Luperto 76); Callejon, Allan (Diawara 59), Fabian, Zielinski; Insigne (Ounas 68), Milik
Ref: Mazic (SRB)