Having reached the quarterfinals of last season’s UEFA Champions League, Napoli marked their return to Europe’s elite club competition with a trip to Portugal. There, they’d meet a Braga side that finished third in their domestic league last term.
BRA: Matheus; Borja, Niakaté, Fonte, Gómez; Musrati, Carvalho; Bruma, Horta, Djaló; Ruiz
NAP: Meret; Olivera, Jesus, Rrahmani, Di Lorenzo; Zieliński, Lobotka, Z. Anguissa; Kvaratskhelia, Osimhen, Politano
Bringing an end to an eleven-year absence from the UEFA Champions League, Braga looked to create an electric atmosphere at the picturesque Estádio Municipal. But rather than celebrating their side’s attacking prowess, the home fans were left to applaud Matheus’ stunning goalkeeping performances – with the shotstopper denying Victor Osimhen in a one-on-one situation.
Still donning his now-iconic mask, Osimhen would be a thorn in the side of the Braga defence for much of the match. The hosts had been lucky, with the usually clinical frontman planting a header wide of the target before striking the crossbar – it had certainly been an uncharacteristic performance from the Nigerian.
But on the stroke of the interval, Napoli finally clinched their long-awaited opener. A poor clearance from José Fonte fell to Giovanni Di Lorenzo, allowing the right-back to thump a volley into the roof of the net and launch i Partinopei into the lead at the best possible moment.
Braga did improve as the match progressed, with Ricardo Horta dragging a shot wide of the target in the second half – but the back of the net seemed to be beyond reach for the hosts, until Bruma connected well with Rodrigo Zalazar’s cross to send a headed effort past Alex Meret.
But there would be a heartbreaking finale for Braga on their return to the UEFA Champions League. Though it looked as though Piotr Zieliński’s cross would sail through the box uncontested, an unlucky touch from Sikou Niakaté sent the ball tumbling into his own net, leaving Braga empty-handed.
Braga will seek to make amends for their misfortunes when they return to European action on 3 October, as the Portuguese side travel to Union Berlin’s temporary home – the Olympiastadion. Napoli welcome Real Madrid to the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on the same date.