Rafa Benitez ‘optimistic’ as Napoli travel to Ukraine aiming to reach Europa League Final

Napoli head to Ukraine in a tight spot, having drawn with Dnipro in the first leg 1-1 and at an away goal disadvantage to start, but Rafa Benitez is targeting a European final all the same.

Rafa Benitez has led Napoli to fourth in Serie A this season, four points off second-placed AS Roma. Carlo Hermann / AFP
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Napoli coach Rafa Benitez is confident his side can overcome Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk on Thursday night and reach the final of the Europa League.

The Italians travel to Kiev’s Olympic stadium needing to score after Yevhen Seleznyov’s late equaliser handed Dnipro a precious away goal in last week’s 1-1 draw in the opening leg in Naples.

“We can go there and win,” Benitez said on his club’s website. “I am optimistic because we have the potential to get to the final.

“I expect a defensive game from Dnipro, but I don’t think they can afford to risk just closing themselves down. We will go out on the pitch with the same mentality we always have.

“I believe if we play the way we did in the first leg and if we display the same fighting spirit and determination we showed last week, we can progress.”

Dnipro, looking to reach their first major European final, have shown no signs of weakness at home this season.

They have won their past four European home games without conceding a goal and will have a crowd of 70,000 fans cheering them on at the stadium.

“This is a historic game for us and we are well aware of it,” Dnipro coach Myron Markevych told the Ukrainian press. “We have to play our game and show our quality.

“Napoli is not an easy opponent and we expect a very difficult game. We need to have more possession than we did in Naples.”

Napoli, fourth in Serie A following Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Parma, have not reached the final since they won the Uefa Cup in the 1988/89 campaign.

They lost 3-1 at Dnipro in the group stages of the Europa League three years ago but are unbeaten in their past four away games in the competition.

Markevych rested some players in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at home that dropped his side to third place in the Ukrainian Premier League, nine points adrift of league leaders Dynamo Kiev.

Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain, who is the top scorer left in the competition with seven goals, will lead Napoli’s attack with team captain Marek Hamsik playing in support in what will be his 50th European competition appearance.

The hosts are without Pavel Ksenz, Papa Gueye, Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Evgen Shakhov, who are all sidelined through injury.

In the other semi-final, holders Sevilla are on the brink of a return to the Europa League final as they take a 3-0 lead to Italy for the second leg against Fiorentina.

It would take a remarkable turnaround in Florence for Unai Emery’s side to miss out on reaching the final again as they look to retain the trophy they won by defeating Benfica on penalties in Turin 12 months ago.

Two goals by Aleix Vidal and a Kevin Gameiro strike last week have the Spanish side in control, and Sevilla are a team in form, too, having lost just once in 18 games in all competitions.

Fiorentina, who are fifth in Serie A, must do what they have never done in Europe to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit if they hope to keep alive their chances of reaching the final in Warsaw and winning a European trophy for the first time since the 1961 Cup Winners’ Cup.


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