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04 December 2023

Mertens, Hamsik put Napoli closer to Champions League last 16

Photo: AFP


Dries Mertens bagged a brace to add to Marek Hamsik's early goal as Napoli moved closer to a place in the Champions League knock-out rounds on Wednesday with a dominant 3-1 win over Red Star Belgrade.

Captain Hamsik got the hosts off the mark after 11 minutes in Naples with Mertens adding two more either side of half-time as the Italians moved top of Group C with one game left to play against Liverpool.

Carlo Ancelotti's Serie A club have to wait to advance to the knock-out rounds after French champions Paris Saint-Germain beat Liverpool 2-1 in France.

The Italians are unbeaten in this year's competition and welcomed fourth-placed Red Star Belgrade after playing a 0-0 draw in Belgrade.

Ancelotti's side were reeling after being held 0-0 by bottom Serie A club Chievo at the weekend to fall eight points behind Juventus.

And three-time Champions League winning coach Ancelotti had warned his team they would be "proper idiots" not to qualify for the last 16 of this year's competition.

They came out firing with Mertens almost scoring the opener after five minutes at the Stadio San Paulo, with a clever back-heel flick from a Jose Callejon assist denied by Red Star goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

But minutes later Slovak Hamsik broke through with a close range volley as the club's record all-time goal scorer finding the net for the first time this season.

Veljko Simic had a chance for Red Star but was denied by Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina with one hand.

Kalidou Koulibaly proved solid in the heart of the Napoli defence as he did against Paris Saint-Germain three weeks ago.

And the Senegalese centre-back also grabbed the hosts' second after 28 minutes racing to pick up a Jose Callejon cross but his header was tipped over by Milan Borjan.

Fabian Ruiz sent in a cross for Mertens with the Belgian tapping in after 33 minutes.

Callejon almost had a third but Milan Rodic charged him down before Mertens got his second six minutes after the break to bring his tally to 100 goals in the Napoli jersey.

The 31-year-old picked up a Hamsik cross, firing high over a beaten Borjan.

Red Star were not bowed with Camorian forward Ben Nabouhane pulling one back for the visitors afer 57 minutes.

Napoli regrouped to close down Red Star who pushed forward with Ospina denying Red Star substitute Lorenzo Ebecilio as the clock ticked.