Napoli blames its performance on result of other group match
ABS-CBN Sports on Nov 25, 2016 10:38 AM
Napoli's head coach Maurizio Sarri waits for the start of the Champions League group B soccer match between Besiktas and Napoli, in Istanbul, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. (AP Photo)
ANDREW DAMPF, AP Sports Writer
ROME (AP) — Rarely has a coach so readily blamed his team's performance on the result of another match.
Yet that's precisely what Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri did after drawing with Dynamo Kiev 0-0 in the Champions League, pointing to how Besiktas rallied from an early three-goal deficit to draw 3-3 with Benfica in the earlier Group B match.
"Five minutes before the opening whistle we learned of the draw and that really took the enthusiasm away from the squad, which was convinced it could advance with a victory," Sarri said.
The results left the group wide open, with Napoli leading Benfica courtesy of a better head-to-head record and Besiktas one point behind. The only thing determined in the group so far was that Kiev will finish last.
Napoli visits Benfica in the last round of group matches on Dec. 6 and Besiktas travels to Kiev.
"Drawing or winning tonight, in terms of qualification it would have been the same: We have to at least draw in Lisbon," Sarri said after Wednesday's matches. "When we warmed up, Benfica led 3-1 and we had a chance to qualify tonight. But then we realized it was a draw and that turned off our enthusiasm.
"In fact, in the last 10 minutes, the squad was only playing not to lose," Sarri added. "We need to learn to be immune to outside influences, although I understand it's difficult even for professionals."
A month ago, Napoli was in position to become the first team in Champions League history to advance from the group stage after just three matches had it beaten Besiktas at home. But Napoli allowed a late winner from Besiktas to lose that game 3-2, then was held to 1-1 at Besiktas, and now faces the prospect of being eliminated.
Another elimination would be hard to digest after the Partenopei became the first team in competition history to be eliminated from the group phase on 12 points in their last appearance three years ago.
Napoli won its opening two Champions League matches this season in convincing fashion, with Arkadiusz Milik scoring two first-half headers when the Partenopei came from behind to beat Kiev 2-1 in Ukraine then conceding only two late goals in a dominant 4-2 victory over Benfica.
The problems began when Milik tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while playing for Poland in October.
Milik was signed to replace Gonzalo Higuain, who transferred to Juventus for an Italian-record 90 million euros ($100 million) after breaking a 66-year-old Serie A record with 36 goals for Napoli last season.
Manolo Gabbiadini has not performed well as a replacement at center forward, with Sarri preferring to use Dries Mertens as a "falso nueve" — false No. 9 — instead in a 4-3-3 flanked by Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne.
While Insigne and Callejon created several chances against Kiev, Mertens struggled.
With Milik not expected back until at least February, Napoli is reportedly interested in signing Leonardo Pavoletti from Genoa in January.
Napoli supporters, meanwhile, are growing anxious, and vented their frustration in the final minutes of the match against Kiev.
"Of course the fans always expect a lot but you've got to take into account what happened over the summer and at the start of this season," Sarri said. "We're in a reconstructive phase and the important thing is to stay united."
Napoli hosts Sassuolo on Monday in Serie A, where it lies sixth.
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf