Napoli brush aside Frankfurt to reach Champions League quarterfinals

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Napoli brush aside Frankfurt to reach Champions League quarterfinals

Eintracht Frankfurt's Mario Gotze, left, and Napoli's defender Min-Jae Kim in action during the UEFA Champions League round of 16, second leg match in Naples, Italy on Wednesday.  [EPA/YONHAP]

Eintracht Frankfurt's Mario Gotze, left, and Napoli's defender Min-Jae Kim in action during the UEFA Champions League round of 16, second leg match in Naples, Italy on Wednesday. [EPA/YONHAP]

 
Napoli cruised into the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 at home in Naples, Italy to lock in a 5-0 win on aggregate.
 
Victor Osimhen struck twice in the win at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, scoring once in injury time at the end of the first half and again a few minutes into the second half for a comfortable 2-0 lead cemented by a Piotr Zielinski penalty in the 64th minute for goal No. 3.
 
Center back Kim Min-jae started in his usual spot in the backline but enjoyed a rare rest when he was substituted off in the 66th minute when the victory was already secure.
 
With the win, Napoli have advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time in the club’s history.  
 
The Serie A leaders are joined in the quarterfinals by league rivals Inter Milan and AC Milan — the first time three Italian sides have reached the final eight since the 2005-06 campaign — as well as Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Benfica.  
 
“It is a great result, we are going to enjoy it along with all our fans,” Napoli manager Luciano Spalletti said after the game.
 
“Now it becomes fundamental that we maintain the same attitude we had this evening, because we didn’t have the same quality as usual at the start, but we still executed the moves well and allowed very little to the opposition. We kept clear heads.
 
“If Napoli in the entire history of this club has not reached the quarter-finals before, that means this is a great result.”
 
Wednesday’s win came a day after Manchester City beat RB Leipzig 7-0 in the second leg of their matchup to win 8-1 on aggregate. Speaking after that game, City manager Pep Guardiola, acknowledging that both City and Napoli are strong contenders in the tournament, said that the Italian side is the best club in Europe right now.
Spalletti was quick to dismiss Guardiola’s “mind games” on Wednesday.
 
“I don’t feel proud, I don’t feel anything,” he said. “I know this game that everyone does to put pressure on the others. Are we putting Napoli in front of Manchester City? If they can spend €900m compared to our €9m, there must be a reason. It’s a game to build us up so they can knock us down.”
 
The two sides could come up against each other in the quarterfinals or, if they both progress, in the final stages of the tournament. The draw for the quarterfinals will be made on Friday with the game starting in May.
 
That the draw is on Friday, the 17th of March, is a somewhat inauspicious omen for Napoli — in Italy Friday the 17th is considered the most unlucky day, the equivalent to Friday the 13th in many other countries. The tradition harks back to Roman times and, with Naples considered one of the most superstitious places in Italy, could cause some serious nerves around the city later this week.
 
Champions League aside, Napoli will be back in action in Serie A on Sunday with a game against Torino on the road in Turin. Napoli currently have an 18-point lead at the top of Serie A and have lost just two games so far this season.

BY JIM BULLEY [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr]
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