Napoli fight back to draw with Barcelona in dull game

 

Robert Lewandowski of FC Barcelona scores the first goal for his team during the UEFA Champions League 2023/24 round of 16 first leg match between SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on February 21, 2024 in Naples, Italy.

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.

Last year’s Spanish and Italian champions, both struggling this season, played out a poor match in which both sides were toothless and lacking attacking flair.

Third in the LaLiga standings eight points behind leaders Real Madrid, Barcelona dominated the first half against a disorganised Napoli who barely managed to get out of their own half. “It is not a good result for the return leg,” Barca manager Xavi Hernandez 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.”

Barca were playing their first Champions League knockout match for three years while Napoli were led by new coach Francesco Calzona with their Serie A title defence in tatters as they languish ninth in the domestic standings.

Napoli were frustrated by Barca’s high pressing, missing simple passes and gifting the ball to the visitors who also looked short of ideas in possession.

Teenager Lamine Yamal, who became the youngest player to appear in the knockout phase of the Champions League at 16 years and 223 days, was also bidding to become the tournament’s youngest scorer but he sent an early effort wide and had a strike from distance saved by goalkeeper Alex Meret.

Ilkay Gundogan twice shot wide for Barca before Poland striker Lewandowski broke the deadlock in the 60th minute. 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 Nigerian Osimhen, playing his first game since the Africa Cup of Nations, equalised 15 minutes later with a fine swivelling strike from inside the box to leave the tie evenly poised ahead of the return leg in Spain on March 12.

“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.”

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