Union Berlin vs Napoli 0-1: Raspadori Inspires Smash-And-Grab in Berlin

Giacomo Raspadori’s goal midway through the second half catapulted Napoli to a gutsy 1-0 victory over Union Berlin at the Olympiastadion. Despite failing to produce a quality performance, Rudi Garcia’s side condemned the Bundesliga underachievers to a ninth consecutive defeat in all competitions.

Following a 3-2 home defeat to Real Madrid in the previous Champions League round, returning to winning ways was imperative for Napoli. The reigning Serie A holders came into proceedings off the back of a 3-1 league thumping of Hellas Verona. But with Garcia’s future at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona hanging in the balance, there was little margin for error in Berlin.

Without talismanic striker Victor Osimhen and midfield stalwart Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Napoli started the game on the back foot. Union Berlin dominated possession in the opening half an hour and had several decent half-chances but couldn’t capitalize on any of them.

Olympianstadion went into rapture when Robin Gosens tapped home from point-blank following David Datro Fofana’s mazy run. However, the linesman’s flag was up for an offside in the build-up play, handing Napoli a lifeline in an intimidating atmosphere at Berlin’s Olympic stadium.

Seeking their first-ever point in the Champions League, Union Berlin continued to apply pressure and create chances. Fofana and Sheraldo Becker caused Napoli all sorts of trouble, with the latter forcing Alex Meret to make a difficult diving save to thwart his devastating effort from an acute angle.

Napoli had a first half to forget, but things improved drastically after the break. Garcia’s men gained a foothold in the game, though openings were hard to come by. The Italians had to rely on Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s individual brilliance to open the scoring.

Fresh off a match-winning double against Verona, the Georgia international went from a goalscorer to an assist provider to inspire Napoli to an undeserved victory. After rounding past his marker with fancy footwork and blistering speed, Kvaratskhelia picked out Raspadori on the edge of the six-yard box. It wasn’t a simple finish, but the ex-Sassuolo forward hammered the ball inside the near post with his left foot.

Napoli spent the remainder of the game defending the narrow lead, which almost backfired. Meret was a mere spectator as Robin Knoche’s towering header flew a whisker wide. The visitors had several promising situations to hurt Urs Fischer’s side on the counter. A lack of ambition to add to their tally and inexplicably poor passing from Garcia’s midfielders made the traveling supporters sweat until the final whistle.

However, Napoli won’t be bothered much by a relatively dismal performance, knowing the keenly-contested win in Berlin propelled them three points clear of third-placed Sporting Braga in Group D. More importantly for Garcia, he has overseen a second straight victory after an abysmal 3-1 home loss to Fiorentina before the international break.

Beating Union Berlin was essential to building a head of steam ahead of the weekend’s blockbuster Serie A clash against fellow Scudetto hopefuls Milan. As for the Germans, a third straight defeat at the start of their maiden Champions League campaign has probably rendered their progression hopes impossible.

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