Napoli survived a late drama at the famous Estadio Municipal to beat Sporting Braga 2-1 in their opening Champions League Group C opener. Partenopei’s first European fixture as reigning Serie A champions in 33 years produced one of the most breathtaking finishes in the opening round.
Rudi Garcia’s men took this trip seeking redemption for a disappointing 2-2 draw against Serie A newcomers Genoa last weekend. Confidence was oozing out of every pore as Napoli came flying out of the traps in pursuit of an all-important opening goal, with Victor Osimhen leading the charge after firing a blank at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris on Saturday.
Braga goalkeeper Matheus was called into action on numerous occasions inside the opening 15 minutes as Napoli asserted their dominance from the get-go. After denying Osimhen one-on-one, he pulled off another moment of brilliance, making a stunning double save to thwart a pair of Neapolitan headers despite smashing off the post after parrying away the first attempt.
Osimhen came close again, but his towering header flew a whisker wide before his thunderous attempt from the edge of the box went agonizingly over the crossbar. Napoli thought they’d have a perfect opportunity to break the deadlock after being awarded a penalty late in the first half. However, after consulting with VAR, referee Serdar Gozubuyuk rightfully overturned his initial decision.
When it looked like Braga could weather the storm and enter the locker room unscratched, Napoli captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo deservedly got the Italians off the mark. Home defender Jose Fonte failed to avert the danger with a header, as the ball fell nicely to the Partenopei right-back, who thumped into the roof of the net with a top-class finish.
Everything looked perfect from the visitors’ perspective at the break. But Garcia’s men showed signs of complacency in the second half, though they were the first to create a decent chance after the interval. Osimhen picked up the ball near Braga’s penalty area and unleashed a devastating shot but couldn’t hit the target.
Braga tried to reply through their talismanic playmaker Ricardo Horta, who drove a powerful shot from just inside the box but failed to set his crosshairs. It was Napoli’s turn to make a new attempt, with Piotr Zielinski latching onto a lofted pass inside the area, only to see his first-team shot go harmlessly off target.
Napoli appeared in complete control of the proceedings when the Portuguese side caught them by surprise. Second-half substitute Rodrigo Zalazar floated in a sublime cross. Bruma’s glancing header left visiting keeper Alex Meret without a chance to pull Braga level six minutes from time.
It seemed like Napoli could return to Italy with a point, but Braga defender Skiou Niakate had other plans. Zielinski whipped in a low cross that looked to be heading comfortably across goal before the hosts’ star turned it home to give Garcia’s side a precious victory.
A morale-boosting triumph in Portugal should set Napoli up nicely for their upcoming Serie A trip to Renato Dall’Ara to take on Thiago Motta’s Bologna next weekend.
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