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Napoli see off Braga to reach Champions League knockouts

Napoli reached the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday after seeing off Braga 2-0 and ending a home hoodoo which had stretched back two months.

The Italian champions qualified second in Group C behind Real Madrid thanks to Serder Saatci’s clumsy own goal and Victor Osimhen’s first goal since early October, both which came in the first half.

Walter Mazzarri’s side would have got through even with a single-goal defeat but in the end comfortably qualified for the next round, snapping a six-match winless streak at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

A first win in Naples since beating Udinese in late September made sure that Napoli finished the group stage on 10 points, six ahead of Braga who drop down to the Europa League.

Braga knew that they had to win by at least two goals in order to leapfrog Napoli and Bruma wasted a great chance to put the away side into the lead with just two minutes on the clock, lashing wide from close range after confusion in the Napoli area.

However their task was made that much taller in the ninth minute, when the unfortunate Saatci tripped over Matteo Politano’s low cross and sent the ball spinning towards his own goal.

Braga goalkeeper Matheus did his best to keep the scores level but could only claw the ball out after it had already crossed the line.

Napoli pushed for a second but had a superb Alex Meret save to thank for Braga not pulling level with a Ricardo Horta rocket from distance.

However in the 33rd minute newly-crowned African player of the year Osimhen effectively sealed Napoli’s passage into the next round.

Moments before the Nigeria striker was left open-mouthed at Piotr Zielinski not squaring to him when he was completely unmarked just yards from goal, opting instead to smash a shot straight at Matheus. 

But this time Natan played the right pass afer bursting down the left flank and allowed Osimhen to bundle in his seventh goal of what has been a difficult campaign to date in southern Italy.

Osimhen’s first goal in this season’s Champions League left Braga needing to score four goals without reply to get through and the wave of relief was tangible both in the stands and on the pitch.

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa should have scored when Osimhen perfectly teed him up in the 65th minute, but the Cameroon midfielder could only shot straight at Matheus.

The only negative note of proceedings was Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s continued struggle for form, the out-of-sorts Georgian yet to open his account in Europe’s top club competition this term.

However he will have another chance in the new year thanks to a win which broke a painful run of three straight losses and could bring some confidence back to troubled Napoli.

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