Napoli have it all to do to reach the Europa League final after Dnipro hit them with a sucker-punch equaliser to draw the first leg of their semifinal 1-1 in Italy. Rafa Benitez’s side dominated virtually the whole game but only had David Lopez’s second-half header to show for it on the scoreboard and Yevhen Seleznyov controversially made them pay for their profligacy late on. Replays showed Seleznyov was offside as he smashed home the away goal that has given Dnipro, who have already beaten Olympiacos, Ajax and Club Brugge in the competition, the upper hand. The Partenopei aimed to continue their march towards the Europa League Final, as Rafa Benitez was determined to win a record third edition. Jonathan de Guzman, Michu and Juan Camilo Zuniga were injured, while Lorenzo Insigne and Jorginho were preferred to Dries Mertens and Gokhan Inler. The Ukrainians missed Ondrej Mazuch, Egidio, Yevhen Shakhov and Roman Zozulya.
Typical for a first-leg, both sides set a tone of calm and simplified football alongside punchy attacks that sought to catch the opposition of guard; with Napolia s esteemed attack were taking on a Dnipro side with seven Europa League clean sheets in 2014/15. An early chance threatened to open the scores, and with real quality as Lorenzo Insigne struck a volley from 20-yards that flashed past the near-post. Gonzalo Higuain and Marek Hamsik then failed to convert tempting crosses in consecutive minutes as the Neapolitans sent a warning sign to their Ukrainian guests. However, after 23 minutes Mariano Andujar was forced into his first save, diving to his right to parry Jaba Kankavaa s long-range strike a signalling the beginning of a frustrating period for the hosts. Loose passes and decisive Dnipro defending led to a tetchy San Paolo as the half-hour mark passed, the rare forays forward from the visitors audibly worrying the crowd as first Insigne, then Raul Albiol made questionable decisions in their own box. Napoli edged up the pressure for the final moments of the half, Insigne and then Christian Maggio threatening openings, before the goal-less first period was mercifully ended by Norwegian referee Svein Moen.
With the second half only five minutes old Lopez rose highest at the near post, ahead of a crowd of defenders and Boyko, to nod Insigne’s corner home. Shortly after Napoli found a way to scythe through Dnipro for the first time, with Marek Hamsik’s through-ball sending Higuain in behind but the Argentinian’s low shot – which looked like it was going through Boyko’s legs – ricocheted off the Dnipro man’s right calf and out of harm’s way. Boyko denied Higuain again on the hour mark and then pulled off a spectacular finger-tip stop to deny the Argentinian 13 minutes from time before Dnipro stunned Napoli with an equaliser. Artem Fedetskiy’s whipped cross created chaos in the 81st minute, but Seleznyov managed to ghost in at the far post and fire past Andujar – although replays showed he was offside. As things stand, the Ukrainians would qualify on away goals.
Credit must go to Dnipro for the way they defended in the first half and, on paper, it may look like a perfect away performance. They withstood heavy pressure for the vast majority of the game before nicking a goal with their first chance of the match 10 minutes from time. That was their gameplan and ultimately it worked, but they will know that they rode their luck on more than one occasion tonight. Napoli could have had five or six to their name here, but instead Dnipro pulled off a smash-and-grab result courtesy of a goal that should have been ruled out for offside.
Fiorentina suffered a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Sevilla in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan. The home side went 2-0 up thanks to a brace from Aleix Vidal in the 17th and 52nd minute and they eventually capped off an impressive victory with Kevin Gameiroa s close range finish moments after coming on as a substitute. The Spaniards were the reigning holders and had won all six of their European home ties this season, but the Viola were unbeaten in 12 continental away fixtures. Khouma Babacar and Giuseppe Rossi were out injured, so Vincenzo Montella adopted a 4-3-3 system. Coach Unai Emery is very familiar with Joaquin, who was in his squad at Valencia, but missed Nicolas Pareja and goalkeeper Beto. There were 30 fewer Fiorentina fans than expected in the stadium, as a fire at Romea s Fiumicino Airport saw several flights cancelled a including the one taking a group of supporters to Seville.
The first opening of the match fell the visitors’ way and striker Mario Gomez was left holding his head in his hands after blazing wildly over from the edge of the area following a fine pass by Joaquin. Sevilla, who also lifted the UEFA Cup in 2006 and 2007, responded with a low shot from Carlos Bacca that was straight at Murara Neto, but the hosts did not have to wait too much longer to take the lead. After a Fiorentina attack had broken down, Sevilla swept up the other end and Bacca picked up possession in the area before laying it across to the unmarked Vidal, who drilled home a first-time shot from the edge of the box. That was the only goal of the first half, but Fiorentina should have netted at least twice. Seconds after Vidal’s goal, Matias Fernandez somehow contrived to miss a gilt-edged chance following more good work by Spaniard Joaquin — a former favourite of Sevilla’s arch-rivals Real Betis — before the Chile international saw another opportunity blocked by home keeper Sergio Rico. Rico then did superbly to save from Mohamed Salah when an equaliser looked certain, while the Egypt international was also denied what looked to be a good claim for a penalty. The half ended with another penalty incident, with referee Felix Brych infuriating the home side by blowing the half-time whistle just as Grzegorz Krychowiak looked to have been fouled in the area.
Following the restart, Sevilla quickly forgot their earlier protests and soon doubled their lead in the 50th minute with Vidal once again finding the back of the net. In similar fashion to his first, the winger was picked out in space on the right hand side and calmly slotted the ball past Neto who made the mistake of diving in the wrong direction. The home side sealed the victory in the 75th minute when substitute Kevin Gameiro put his side 3-0 up with his first touch of the game. Whilst Fiorentina abandoned their tactical structure in search of a goal, Sevilla exploited the space and broke down the left hand flank, with a cross-field shot eventually being tapped in by the French striker. As the game petered out, Fiorentina were unsuccessful in their attempts to find a valuable away goal.
Fiorentina were unfortunate to lose in Seville. The Italian side had more possession and more shots, but ultimately, poor finishing cost them the chance to secure a positive result. Sevilla, on the other hand, only had five shots on target, but scored from three of them, which is an indication of what occurred. In truth, Fiorentina were extremely unfortunate to be behind at the break, but they never really turned up in the second period and Sevilla always looked the team more likely to claim a first-leg victory. A three-goal separation is perhaps a shade harsh on Fiorentina, such was their dominance during stages of the first 45 minutes. Matias Fernandez and Mario Gomez were both guilty of missing opportunities, however, which was not the case for Sevilla, who were so clinical in attack. The importance of away goals are always discussed and had Fiorentina found one at 3-0, they would have still been in with a chance in the second leg. As it stands, however, it is difficult to see the Serie A team turning this semi-final around next Thursday when the two teams meet in Florence.