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Barcelona see off Napoli to reach quarter-finals

By Vincent Ashitey
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Barcelona reached the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in four years with an entertaining victory over Napoli.

Fermin Lopez and Joao Cancelo put Barcelona on their way at Estadi de Montjuic, but the hosts were made to work hard by the Italian side who pulled one back through Amir Rrahmani.

A back-and-forth encounter was eventually settled by Poland striker Robert Lewandowski's close-range finish with seven minutes of normal time remaining.

Following an brisk opening, Barcelona landed a mighty one-two punch on Napoli with two goals in three minutes.

First, 20 year-old midfielder Lopez took his chance to impress on the big stage as he stroked home a side-footed finish on 15 minutes after Lewandowski dummied Raphinha's low cross.

Former Leeds winger Raphinha was also at the centre of Barcelona's second, leading a counter-attack and curling a shot off the post before Manchester City loanee Cancelo scored from the rebound.

Barcelona however ceded momentum, and Napoli pulled one back on the half hour when Kosovan centre-back Rrahmani ventured forward to slot past Marc-Andre ter Stegen following a cutback from the right.

Napoli pushed hard for an equaliser, and missed their best chance with 10 minutes remaining as Jesper Lindstrom sent a free header wide from seven yards.

But they eventually came up short as Barcelona sealed a win for the first time in five Champions League knockout ties when Lewandowski tapped home after being set up by slick play from Sergi Roberto.


Youth and experience combine for Barca

Xavi is leaving at the end of the season, but the Barcelona manager is still thinking of the club's future as he gives opportunities to young talent.

Among them is Lopez, who spent last season on loan with third-tier Linares but has been a fixture of the Barca first team this campaign. He started the Clasico against Real Madrid in the autumn, and made his 30th senior appearance of 2023-24 here.

This was arguably the most high-profile match of his career, and Lopez looked to grab the spotlight with a blistering start. He had already lofted a good chance over the Napoli crossbar before he opened the scoring.

But a lack of big-game nous perhaps told as Napoli were allowed to take control of the tempo despite Barca's early two-goal lead.

After Rrahmani pulled one back, only the fingertips of Ter Stegen stopped Napoli equalising before half-time when he tipped over a looping header from skipper Giovanni di Lorenzo.

As the Napoli pressure continued in the second half, Xavi responded by bringing on the experienced midfield pair of Roberto and Oriol Romeu with Lopez one of those replaced.

Meanwhile Barcelona's youngest gun, Lamine Yamal - who in the first leg became the youngest player to appear in a Champions League knockout game - nearly added the accolade of youngest scorer, only for his close-range finish to be ruled offside.

With the calm heads and experience alongside the youthful talent, Barca managed to see out the game and provide a ray of hope from what has been a tricky campaign.

Osimhen bows out

This game featured two of the biggest attacking names in Europe, as Lewandowski and Napoli's Victor Osimhen once again graced the same pitch after both scored in the 1-1 first-leg draw.

It was a frustrating evening for Osimhen, who provided a constant threat but more than once was stopped by the offside flag.

Eventually his and Napoli's challenge fizzled out, the latest disappointing chapter in a poor season for the Italian champions.

Napoli are seventh in Serie A, 28 points off the top and on to their third manager of the season in Francesco Calzona.