• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

UCL: Barcelona overcome Napoli to reach quarter-finals

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Barcelona advanced to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in four years after beating Napoli 4-2 on aggregate.

Two goals early in the game from Fermin Lopez and Joao Cancelo put Xavi Hernandez’s Barcelona side in total control but Barca had to survive a scare against the Italian champions in the middle part of the match.

Amir Rrahmani pulled one back before the break and Jesper Lindstrom missed the target with a header from point-blank range late in the game that would have levelled the tie. Instead, Robert Lewandowski finished off a fine team move to seal it.

Neither side has been able to mount a defence of their domestic crowns this season but it is Barcelona who can still dream of ending their European campaign on a high.

It is the first time five-time winners Barcelona have reached the last eight of the competition since 2020, and they did so without injured midfield trio Pedri, Gavi and Frenkie de Jong.

“It was an incredible night, (it’s been) four years without getting where we belong, where the club deserves to be,” Sergi Roberto told Movistar.

“The fans backed us — they are very important.”

Xavi said he was leaving at the end of the season in January and his team have gone on a run of nine games without defeat after that decision.

Teenage stars Lamine Yamal and Pau Cubarsi have been key in that run, and both excelled against Napoli on a night which offered some relief to Barcelona amid a bleak season.

Centre-back Cubarsi, 17, got the better of Napoli forward Victor Osimhen.

“He’s incredible, he was the game’s best player,” added Sergi Roberto.

“He doesn’t stop surprising us, in the last 16 and playing this way, he’s a player who can be here for his whole life.”

Xavi demanded the fans turn their temporary Olympic Stadium home on the city’s Montjuic hill into a pressure cooker, and they duly obliged. Over 50,000 spectators marked the club’s largest attendance this season.

Francesco Calzona’s Napoli wilted as the Spanish champions came out of the blocks flying.