SSC Napoli 1-1 Union Berlin: Fofana salvages point for Union against Napoli

On the losing side in front of their supporters across their last 14 UEFA Champions League encounters, Napoli boss Rudi Garcia made two changes to his side that emerged victorious at Salernitana in Serie A at the weekend, as Natan and Mário Rui returned to the Partenopei back-four.

Meanwhile, Union Berlin approached the contest at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona needing to emerge victorious to stand any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages after losing all three of their 2023/24 UCL group stage matches thus far.

NAP: Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Natan, Rui; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zieliński; Kvaratskhelia, Raspadori, Politano

FCU: Rønnow; Jaeckel, Bonucci, Leite; Khedira, Juranović, Roussillon, Laïdouni, Haberer; Fofana, Becker

Languishing at the foot of Group C after struggling to make an immediate impact in their first-ever campaign in the UEFA Champions League, Union began encouragingly in the opening proceedings of the contest, and manufactured the first real shot in anger at goal in only the fourth minute, as David Datro Fofana fired straight down the throat of Meret.

After a relatively passive commencement to the customary entertaining attacking escapades on game day at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Napoli finally found their final third footing in the 24th minute as Natan remained up from the back from a previously-taken corner to head Piotr Zieliński’s cross against the post.

However, with only six more minutes on the match-day clock, it appeared Napoli had broken the deadlock as André-Frank Zambo Anguissa slotted Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s headed pass back into the danger zone past Frederik Rønnow.

However, the footballing gods came to the visitors’ rescue as VAR clinically discovered that Di Lorenzo had gained an unfair advantage over Jérôme Roussillon in their duel to get to the ball prior to Anguissa finding the back of the net.

Nonetheless, there was nothing that could prevent the defending Serie A champions from legitimately taking the lead in the 39th minute, as Matteo Politano was in the right place at the right time to fortuitously redirect Mário Rui’s dangerous delivery into the six-yard area past Rønnow, via the forehead of the unfortunate Diogo Leite.

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Determined to get back on level terms before heading into the away dressing room for the interval, Union came within inches of doing precisely that at the end of the opening 45 minutes, as Josip Juranović’s ambitious free-kick on the outskirts of the penalty area cannoned off the left-hand post with Meret firmly beaten.

After coming close to equalising deep into first-half stoppage time, Napoli could not deny their visitors from the Bundesliga from hitting the back of the net seven minutes after the restart, as Fofana fired home the rebound after Meret could only palm Sheraldo Becker’s initial effort into the path of the on-loan Chelsea striker – all beginning with a scintillating Union counter-attacking move from inside their own half.

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In stark contrast to the opening 45 minutes, two late attempts from Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, which were arguably comfortable for Rønnow to deal with, turned out to be the only other significant efforts on goal in a scrappy conclusion to what promised to be a potentially bums-off-seats second half when referee Danny Makkelie blew his whistle for half time.

A somewhat disappointing point for Napoli after they dominated large spells of the first half temporarily extends Rudi Garcia’s side’s advantage over S.C. Braga in the final qualification position in Group C to four points – ahead of the Primeira Liga-based outfit’s game against leaders Real Madrid this evening. Meanwhile, Union Berlin remain rooted to the foot of the standings, subsequently leaving their chance of progressing to the knockout stages looking highly unlikely to now happen.