Dries Mertens scored his 122nd goal for Napoli as he helped the Partenopei qualify for the Coppa Italia Final (Photo: Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

Mertens, Ospina Stop Inter, Send Napoli to Coppa Italia Final

Behind closed doors at the San Paolo Stadium, Napoli held Inter onto a 1-1 tie in the second Coppa Italia Semi-Final, advancing to the final stage on a 2-1 aggregate score to meet Juventus on Wednesday, June 17. Dries Mertens equalized Christian Eriksen’s opener to become Napoli’s all-time best scorer at 122 – surpassing no less than Marek Hamsik.

The deciding event in the double-legged Semi-Final thus turned out to be Fabian Ruiz’s goal back in February, which had allowed the Partenopei to make a full score at the San Siro in the first leg before the coronavirus pandemic forced football to stop.

The Coppa Italia Final will be, once again, Juventus-Napoli. Just like in 2012, when the Partenopei won 2-0 inflicting Antonio Conte’s Juventus their only domestic loss in the season.

Tonight, Antonio Conte was sitting on Inter’s bench, but his grit and passion didn’t help the Nerazzurri prevail as Inter progressively faded out after an aggressive start and a lightning-fast lead. When Christian Eriksen teleported the ball from a corner kick directly into Napoli’s goal, with David Ospina’s unexpected cooperation, things indeed seemed to be taking a good turn for Inter, which had managed to cancel their one-goal deficit just two minutes after the start. 

Ready? GO! ...And Napoli were already down 0-1 in Coppa Italia after two minutes as Christian Eriksen caught David Ospina by surprise directly from a corner kick!
Ready? GO! …And Napoli were already down 0-1 after two minutes as Christian Eriksen caught David Ospina by surprise directly from a corner kick! (Photo: © FC Inter)

Goalkeeper Ospina, however, had multiple chances to redeem himself as Inter maintained control of the operations for a good part of the first half, only risking something in the occasion of a hazardous back-pass by Alessandro Bastoni – which called Samir Handanovic to a difficult clearance.

Antonio Candreva’s curl shot barely missing the target sounded like a warning sign for the Partenopei, which saw Romelu Lukaku’s header in 32nd minute deflected by the Colombian goalkeeper. The Belgian was well-served by Ashley Young, who risked much just one minute later when he tackled Matteo Politano with a yellow card already on his record. Referee Gianluca Rocchi spared him the marching orders.

In the 39th minute, a new shot by Candreva – this time on target – called Ospina to go again above and beyond. Napoli’s keeper turned into an unexpected assist-man one minute later, as he served Lorenzo Insigne with a long-range throw-in which caught Inter’s defense completely by surprise.

Lorenzo Il Magnifico completed his counterattack with a no-look service for Dries Mertens and the Belgian – all alone in front of Samir Handanovic – just couldn’t miss the chance. As he set the score at 1-1, Mertens became Napoli’s all-time top scorer, netting his 122nd for the Partenopei. A good way to celebrate his imminent contract renewal with President Aurelio De Laurentiis’ side. Mertens will likely remain in Napoli until the end of his career.

Dries Mertens has been liked to Inter recently, but the goal by which he pushed Napoli to the Coppa Italia Final may have made him change his mind... (Photo: Cafaro/AP)
Dries Mertens has been liked to Inter recently, but the goal by which he pushed Napoli to the Coppa Italia Final may have made him change his mind… (Photo: Cafaro/AP)

Napoli’s equalizer came in the Nerazzurri’s best moment and did have an impact on both sides’morale. After the break, coach Gennaro Gattuso’s boys seemed more in control and managed to restrain Inter’s assaults more effectively. Kalidou Koulibaly battled like a lion against Romelu Lukaku, while Nikola Maksimovic – who won a starter spot in view of Kostas Manolas’ injury – managed to keep an impalpable Lautaro Martinez at bay until the Argentine was substituted by Alexis Sanchez.

The game turned into a whirlwind of changes during the last quarter, with the post-pandemic revolving doors offering playing time to José Callejon and Fabian Ruiz on the Napoli side. Antonio Conte answered by sending in, on top of El Nino Maravilla, also Moses and Cristiano Biraghi. He eventually added also Andrea Ranocchia and Stefano Sensi.

Gennaro Gattuso also operated three more substitutions but went pretty close to ending the game with one man less despite having five changes available as an exhausted Koulibaly collapsed to cramps in the final stages of the match.

But, as the Senegalese defender held on and remained on the pitch, Napoli’s real savior turned out to be once again David Ospina. In the 81st minute, Ospina denied Christian Eriksen his first Serie A brace as he sprung to his left to deflect the former Tottenham’s right-foot shot from close range – canceling Alexis’ Sanchez wonderful back-heel pass.

Gennaro Gattuso’s wall held despite five minutes of stoppage time and offered Napoli the chance to put their hands on their third Coppa Italia since 2012 and redeem a season that has been quite disappointing so far. 

For Antonio Conte’s Inter, which are nine-point far from the Serie A table spot and have already bid farewell to the Champions League long ago, the Coppa Italia was an important goal. The post-COVID-19 restart did not bring good news for the Nerazzurri.   


MATCH REPORT

June 13, 2020 – Coppa Italia 2019-2020 Semi-Final
NAPOLI-INTER 1-1

SCORERS: 2′ Eriksen (I), 41′ Mertens (N)

NAPOLI (4-3-3): Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Maksimovic, Koulibaly, Hysaj; Elmas (65′ Fabian Ruiz), Demme, Zielinski (85′ Allan); Politano (65′ Callejon), Mertens (74′ Milik), Insigne (85′ Younes) (Meret, Karnezis, Mario Rui, Llorente, Lozano, Luperto, Ghoulam) Coach: Gattuso
INTER (3-4-1-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij (88′ Ranocchia), Bastoni; Candreva (72′ Moses), Barella, Brozovic, Young (72′ Biraghi); Eriksen (88′ Sensi); Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez (72′ Sanchez) (Padelli, Berni, Gagliardini, Asamoah, Borja Valero, Esposito, Pirola) Coach: Conte

REFEREE: Mr. Rocchi from Florence
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Young, De Vrij (I), Ospina (N); Extra Time: 1st Half 1′, 2nd Half 5′

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