Sport

Swansea 0-0 Napoli

By Riath Al-Samarrai

Friday, February 21, 2014    

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There was an interesting moment shortly after the whistle for half-time when Napoli’s goalkeeper Rafael Cabral fell to his knees and started praying. If he was requesting an intervention of sorts, it was granted — he was promptly substituted.

A knee injury was the reason, but equally it might have been exhaustion or an act of mercy from his manager Rafael Benitez. The Brazilian had done his bit.

Only he knows how Swansea did not take the lead that a first-half display of such sustained aggression and dominance merited; only Pepe Reina, his replacement, came close among Napoli’s players to emulating his performance.

Together, they have ensured that Benitez’s hopes of retaining the trophy he won last season with Chelsea are very much alive. That, in light of what happened last night, is a far greater shock than the one caused by the minor earthquake that nudged the city earlier in

the afternoon.

No-one could have predicted such a one-sided game; no-one with experience of English football might have expected a defence managed by Benitez to be so poor.

Maybe that is why the Spaniard looked so drawn as he sat before the press.

‘I think a draw is a good result,’ he said. ‘Swansea can play the ball very well and are fast on the flanks. It was not easy.

‘We have two excellent keepers, but the team got a draw as a unit.’

With that he took a deep breath. The second leg has become more challenging than anyone realistically expected.

Swansea’s manager Garry Monk knows that much. He came into this job with a point to prove; it illustrates the fine strides he has taken in a short time that he was talking about a missed opportunity against such overwhelming favourites.

‘We should have had more than a draw - but what a performance,' he said. 'They are one of the top teams in Europe, so to put on that performance — wow.

‘The players can be really proud of themselves. A goal would have helped us for the next leg. The good thing is they now have to win.

‘They have to come at us. At the end of the day it is the hand we have been dealt. But we have handled them once and we have to show we can do it again. If someone had said a draw before

the game I would have said yes.’

To think, Napoli actually started quite well. Within three minutes, both Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik went close. But that was just about as good as it got.

It has been a muted complaint in Italy that Benitez — an orchestrator of boring football in the eyes of Sir Alex Ferguson — has neglected his defence at Napoli. Certainly the facts support that — 44 goals conceded in 24 Serie A games is plenty, even if they do sit third in that table.

—Daily Mail

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