‘We’re on the right road’ says Rafa Benitez as Napoli secure third

Napoli dealt a comfortable 3-0 defeat to Cagliari on Tuesday night, cementing a place in next season's Champions League with a third-place finish in Serie A.
Napoli forward Gonzalo Higuain celebrates with the Coppa Italia trophy prior their Serie A match against Cagliari on Tuesday. Ciro Fusco / EPA / May 6, 2014
Napoli forward Gonzalo Higuain celebrates with the Coppa Italia trophy prior their Serie A match against Cagliari on Tuesday. Ciro Fusco / EPA / May 6, 2014

Napoli celebrated cementing a third-place finish in Italy’s Serie A, and a place in the qualifying stages of next season’s Champions League, with a 3-0 rout of ten-man Cagliari on Tuesday.

Fresh from victory over Fiorentina in a violence-marred Cup final, Rafael Benitez’s men were assured of third spot earlier in the evening when Fiorentina, in fourth, were stunned 4-3 by Sassuolo in Florence.

Celebrations at the San Paolo, however, were comparatively subdued as fans sung and waved banners in honour of 30-year-old Napoli fan Ciro Esposito, who is in hospital in a critical state after being shot on the fringes of the Cup final on Saturday.

Benitez joined the many calls from Italy to find a solution to football-related violence.

“We should never have to deal with these kinds of problems in football,” the Spaniard told Sky Sport.

“The authorities have to come up with solutions. We are coaches and we should be speaking about football.”

Napoli went on to outclass their visitors from Sardinia, who played much of the second half with 10 men after ‘keeper Marco Silvestri saw red for a foul on Goran Pandev on 54 minutes.

By then, Napoli had already raced to a 2-0 lead thanks to Dries Mertens’ 33rd minute spot-kick after Daniele Conti had hauled Pandev down in the box as the striker prepared to strike.

Pandev doubled Napoli’s lead three minutes before the interval when he turned Jose Callejon’s unselfish square ball into a virtually empty net after the Spaniard had intercepted defender Davide Astori.

Despite having little to do, Napoli ‘keeper Pepe Reina had suffered a slight muscle problem and, with number two Rafael also injured, was replaced for the second half by Roberto Colombo, the 38-year-old making his first official appreance for the Azzurri.

Cagliari ‘keeper Silvestri was at fault nine minutes after the restart when he brought Pandev down in the box as the Macedonian prepared to round him and shoot.

Cagliari coach Ivo Pulga took off Agim Ibraimi and sent on ‘keeper Vlada Avramov, who was only too happy to see Marek Hamsik smash his spot-kick off the underside of the bar.

Barely five minutes later, however, Blerim Dzemaili put the match beyond reach when he drove home Napoli’s third.

Cagliari coach Ivo Pulga conceded: “They deserved the win. We just didn’t get into the game. Now, we have to look forward and preparing for Chievo.”

Benitez added: “When you win a game in this fashion a few days after winning the Cup, it means we’re on the right road.”

Earlier, Domenico Berardi scored his second hat-trick of the season, one of his goals coming from the penalty spot, as Sassuolo stunned hosts Fiorentina 4-3 to move two points clear of the drop zone.

Sassuolo’s eighth win of the campaign moved them up to 16th, two points clear of Bologna. Fiorentina remain fourth but with two games remaining Vincenzo Montella’s side are only six points ahead of sixth-placed Torino.

“Apart from final score, I mostly liked what I saw,” said Montella.

“Sassuolo were obviously fired up, in the second half we finally fought back. It was a spectacular end-of-season game and it’s just a shame we weren’t in it.”

Sassuolo coach Eusebio Di Francesco could not quite believe his eyes as his side piled in the goals, and celebrated wildly with his players at the final whistle.

“Now we have two crucial games to try and stay in the top flight. We can’t give up now,” said Di Francesco, who was sacked in January before being brought back on board in March following the sacking of Alberto Malesani.

“We beat a technically superior side at a venue that’s difficult to come to, but we put everything out there tonight and we’re going home with three deserved points.”

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Published: May 7, 2014 04:00 AM


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