Napoli fight back to draw with Barca, Galeno stuns Arsenal with late winner

Published February 23, 2024
NAPLES: Napoli’s Victor Osimhen (C) vies for the ball Ronald Araujo (second R) and Inigo Martinez (second L) of Barcelona during their Champions League round-of-16 first leg at the Diego-Armando-Maradona Stadium.—AFP
NAPLES: Napoli’s Victor Osimhen (C) vies for the ball Ronald Araujo (second R) and Inigo Martinez (second L) of Barcelona during their Champions League round-of-16 first leg at the Diego-Armando-Maradona Stadium.—AFP

NAPLES: Napoli fought back to hold visitors Barcelona to a dour 1-1 draw in their Champions Lea­gue last-16 first leg on Wednesday as Victor Osimhen cancelled out Robert Lewandowski’s opener, while Porto snatched a shock last-gasp 1-0 victory over Arsenal as Galeno netted a sublime effort deep in stoppage time.

In his first match since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, Nig­eria forward Osimhen rolled home the leveller with 15 minutes left at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona to give the Italian champions hope that a dreadful season might have reached a turning poi­nt after Lewandowski’s 60th-minute opener had seemed likely to be the decisive goal as Barca were for long periods the better team.

Osimhen had last played for Napoli just before Christmas and his ninth club goal of the season came at a crucial time, not just in the match but in Napoli’s campaign as they play under their third manager of the season in Francesco Calzona, their league title defence up in flames.

Calzona had less than 48 hours to prepare for his first match in charge after replacing Walter Mazzarri on Monday night, and Osimhen gave Napoli a chance of progressing despite a disjointed performance by his team.

Napoli head into next month’s second leg in the Catalan capital knowing that with Osimhen in the team there is always a chance of a goal regardless of the overall team display.

“We have a lot of work to do, but I congratulated the team for rediscovering the desire to fight,” Calzona told Amazon Prime Video Italia. “We struggled at the start but I really liked the spirit of the side. The players gave their heart and soul to avoid defeat against a very strong opponent.”

For Barca meanwhile it was the latest misstep of a complicated cam­paign at the end of which coach Xavi Hernandez will leave, assuming president Joan Laporta doesn’t sack the coach before then. The aw­ay side had the better chances but couldn’t put Napoli away and could yet pay for their wastefulness.

“It is not a good result for the return leg,” Xavi told Movistar Plus. “We were better in all aspects of the game, we had to control and we struggled, we weren’t effective up front, it was a summary of our season.”

PORTO: FC Porto goalkeeper Diogo Costa jumps to make a save during the round-of-16 first leg against Arsenal at the Dragao Stadium.—AFP
PORTO: FC Porto goalkeeper Diogo Costa jumps to make a save during the round-of-16 first leg against Arsenal at the Dragao Stadium.—AFP

Barca, playing their first Champions League knockout match for three years, frustrated Napoli with their high pressing and Poland striker Lewandowski broke the deadlock when he received a pass from Pedri just inside the box and made space to unleash a bullet strike into the bottom corner of the net.

That woke Napoli up and Osimhen equalised with a fine swivelling strike from inside the box as Inigo Martinez slipped on the edge of the area to transform the atmosphere in the stadium.

In Porto, a drab clash was deadlocked until the fifth minute of added time when the Brazilian winger Galeno curled an unstoppable effort past David Raya to send the Estadio Do Dragao crowd wild.

Arsenal, who had scored 21 goals in their last five Premier League games, were strangely subdued in attack and failed to register an effort on target throughout a cagey contest.

They defended solidly enough but may live to regret their lack of urgency as Galeno gave Porto the edge ahead of the second leg in London on March 12.

Arsenal are seeking to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2010 with their last seven Champions League campaigns all ending in the last 16.

“We lacked threat. We lacked aggression, especially when we had the ball in the final third,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta told TNT Sports. “So we will tweak a few things to attack better. We can do better. If you want to be in the quarter-finals you have to beat your opponent and this is what we will have to do at the Emirates now.”

Reassuringly for Arsenal, Porto have a terrible record away against English clubs and have never scored at Arsenal, conceding 11 in three visits.

But the 30-time Portuguese champions will travel with hope.

They were happy to cede possession and allow Arsenal to dictate the tempo, but it was the hosts who created the better chances. But the best was saved to last as Galeno seized on a loose ball and advanced to the edge of the penalty area before looking up and bending a shot past Raya.

“It was a good game, a Champions League game,” Porto coach Sergio Conceicao said. “Our opponents had more of the ball, but Porto were always more dangerous.”

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2024

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