Home Napoli draw with Barca, Porto beat Arsenal in Champions League

Napoli draw with Barca, Porto beat Arsenal in Champions League

Victor Osimhen was described as "a huge player" after marking his return for Napoli with a goal that gave the Italian champions a 1-1 draw with Barcelona and hope that a dreadful season might have reached a turning point.

AFP

Nigeria forward Osimhen rolled home the leveller with 15 minutes left of the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, in his first match since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations.

The 25-year-old equalised Robert Lewandowski’s 60th-minute opener, which seemed likely to be the decisive goal as Barca were for long periods the better team, with Napoli’s first and only shot on target.

“He’s a huge player for us,” said Napoli skipper Giovanni Di Lorenzo to Amazon Prime Video.

“He’s come back with the right attitude. We knew he would though as he’s a great player and professional. He’ll give us a hand in the matches to come.”

Osimhen had last played for Napoli in a 2-0 defeat at Roma just before Christmas, when he was one of two players from his team to be sent off.

His ninth club goal of the season came at a crucial time, not just in the match but in Napoli’s campaign as they play under their third manager of the season in Francesco Calzona, their league title defence up in flames.

Calzona had less than 48 hours to prepare for his first match in charge after replacing Walter Mazzarri on Monday night, and Osimhen gave Napoli a chance of progressing despite a disjointed performance by his team.

Napoli head into next month’s second leg in the Catalan capital knowing that with Osimhen in the team there is always a chance of a goal regardless of the overall team display.

“It’s a good starting point,” added Di Lorenzo.

“We know that we need to do more but we’ve taken a step forward and now we have a chance in the return leg. It’s all to play for.”

‘A little disappointed’

For Barca meanwhile it was the latest misstep of a complicated campaign at the end of which coach Xavi will leave, assuming president Joan Laporta doesn’t sack the coach before then.

The away side had the better chances but couldn’t put Napoli away and could yet pay for their wastefulness.

“We’re a little disappointed with the result because we could have come out with a win,” said Ronald Araujo to Movistar.

“Napoli had a lot of the ball in the last 15 minutes but they barely created a chance. The Champions League is like that.”

Barca showed why they were pre-match favourites in the opening exchanges, dominating the ball and creating shooting opportunities which dulled an initially raucous crowd.

Teen sensation Lamine Yamal come close to becoming the Champions League’s youngest-ever scorer when his ninth-minute effort was well-saved by Alex Meret.

In the 23rd minute, the away side twice went close to taking the lead, Lewandowski’s flicked finish kept out by Meret who then tipped away Ilkay Gundogan’s long-range rocket.

From that point on Napoli’s presence in the game grew, but the hosts failed to let off a single effort on goal before the break despite pushing their opponents on back.

Gundogan forced another smart save from Meret shortly after the restart after being put through by Yamal before blasting over another presentable chance.

Barca had the lead their performance deserved on the hour when Lewandowski collected Pedri’s pass and drilled a perfect low finish past Meret.

With the away side looking like they would push home their advantage, Osimhen pounced as Inigo Martinez slipped on the edge of the area to level the scores and transform the atmosphere in the stadium.

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and substitute Giovanni Simeone both had efforts off target with the home side’s tails up, but it was Barca who went inches away from snatching a late win.

Gundogan’s frustrating night in front of goal continued deep into stoppage time as his low effort flew just wide.

Galeno stuns timid Arsenal with late Porto winner

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta bemoaned his team’s lack of cutting edge as Galeno’s sublime stoppage-time goal earned Porto a 1-0 win in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.

Appearing in a first knockout match in Europe’s premier club competition for seven years, Arsenal struggled to break down an organised Porto defence before Galeno’s stroke of brilliance in the 94th minute.

The defeat ended Arsenal’s eight-game unbeaten run against Portuguese opposition and left the Gunners with plenty of work to do in the return leg in London on March 12.

“We lacked threat. We lacked aggression, especially when we had the ball in the final third,” Arteta told TNT Sports. “So we will tweak a few things to attack better. We can do better.”

Arsenal last made it to the Champions League quarter-finals in 2010, when they beat Porto in the last 16, but it is the Portuguese club who now have the upper hand.

“I think it’s a team that’s very well-organised defensively and they break your rhythm all the time,” said Arteta.

“We want to be in the quarter-finals, you have to beat your opponent and this is what we have to do at the Emirates.”

Arsenal failed to register a single shot on target as their recent goal spree came to a shuddering halt.

“When it’s 0-0, you look up at the clock and it’s 93 minutes gone, if you aren’t going to win the game then don’t lose it,” said Arsenal midfielder Declan Rice.

“It’s a real kick in the teeth because we’ve conceded late but we know what to do. We’re not going to let our heads drop.”

Arteta stuck with the same starting line-up for the third game in succession following his team’s 5-0 demolition of Burnley at the weekend.

Porto defender Pepe, who turns 41 next week and is the oldest outfield player in Champions League history, made his 119th appearance in the competition.

By comparison, Arsenal’s starters had combined for a total of 104 before kick-off at the Estadio do Dragao.

While short on Champions League experience, Arteta has said his squad have the belief they can mix it with Europe’s best.

Flee-flowing attack stalls

The Gunners have started 2024 with five successive wins in the Premier League, scoring 21 goals in those games, and are firmly in the race for a first title in two decades.

As well as reigning supreme in England for the first time since 2004, the north Londoners are convinced they can also conquer Europe, spurred on further by the prospect of a Wembley final.

Arsenal have never won the Champions League — losing their only final appearance against Barcelona in 2006.

Porto, European champions in 1987 and 2004, are a disappointing third in Portugal this term, but frustrated Arsenal throughout.

They were happy to cede possession and allow Arsenal to dictate the tempo in the first half, but it was the hosts who created the best chance.

Francisco Conceicao darted in from the right and slid over a cross that looped off a sliding Gabriel, with Galeno rifling against the far post and then steering the rebound wide after the ball came right back to him.

William Saliba and Kai Havertz headed wide at corners either side of a Nico Gonzalez drive that sailed over in a physical opening 45 minutes.

Leandro Trossard, deployed again as the leader of the attack alongside Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, lashed over on the volley from Rice’s driven corner early in the second half.

Arteta made his lone change with a quarter of an hour left, replacing Trossard with Jorginho, but Arsenal’s lack of a prolific striker was exposed and they were ultimately undone by a moment of magic from Galeno.

Tags: World Sports

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