Published: 10:24, February 22, 2024 | Updated: 10:24, February 22, 2024
Napoli fight back to draw with Barcelona in dull game
By Reuters

Napoli's Giovanni Simeone jumps for the ball during the Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match between SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona at the Diego Maradona stadium in Naples, Italy, on Feb 21, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

NAPLES, Italy - Napoli fought back to hold visitors Barcelona to a dour 1-1 draw in their Champions League last-16 first leg on Wednesday as Victor Osimhen cancelled out Robert Lewandowski's opener.

Last year's Spanish and Italian champions, both struggling this season, played out a poor match in which both sides were toothless and lacking attacking flair.

Third in the LaLiga standings eight points behind leaders Real Madrid, Barcelona dominated the first half against a disorganized Napoli who barely managed to get out of their own half.

"It is not a good result for the return leg," Barca manager Xavi Hernandez told Movistar Plus.

"We were better in all aspects of the game, we had to control and we struggled, we weren't effective up front, it was a summary of our season."

Napoli's Cameroon midfielder #99 Andre Zambo Anguissa (center left) vies with Barcelona's Polish forward #09 Robert Lewandowski (center right) during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first Leg football match between Napoli and Barcelona at the Diego-Armando-Maradona stadium in Naples on Feb 21, 2024. (PHOTO / AFP)

Barca were playing their first Champions League knockout match for three years while Napoli were led by new coach Francesco Calzona with their Serie A title defense in tatters as they languish ninth in the domestic standings.

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Napoli were frustrated by Barca's high pressing, missing simple passes and gifting the ball to the visitors who also looked short of ideas in possession.

Teenager Lamine Yamal, who became the youngest player to appear in the knockout phase of the Champions League at 16 years and 223 days, was also bidding to become the tournament's youngest scorer but he sent an early effort wide and had a strike from distance saved by goalkeeper Alex Meret.

Ilkay Gundogan twice shot wide for Barca before Poland striker Lewandowski broke the deadlock in the 60th minute.

Napoli's Victor Osimhen (left) and Barcelona's Ronald Araujo challenge for the ball during the Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match between SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona at the Diego Maradona stadium in Naples, Italy, on Feb 21, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

He received a pass from Pedri just inside the box and made space to unleash a bullet strike into the bottom corner of the net.

That woke Napoli up and Nigerian Osimhen, playing his first game since the Africa Cup of Nations, equalized 15 minutes later with a fine swivelling strike from inside the box to leave the tie evenly poised ahead of the return leg in Spain on March 12.

"We have a lot of work to do, but I congratulated the team for rediscovering the desire to fight," Calzona told Amazon Prime Video Italia.

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"We struggled at the start but I really liked the spirit of the side. The players gave their heart and soul to avoid defeat against a very strong opponent."