Benitez Is Right: Unlucky Napoli Are on the Right Track

Jerrad PetersWorld Football Staff WriterDecember 11, 2013

NAPLES, ITALY - NOVEMBER 02:  Rafael Benitez, head coach of Napoli during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Calcio Catania at Stadio San Paolo on November 2, 2013 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Gonzalo Higuain broke down and cried following Napoli's Champions League exit on Wednesday.

"We didn't get anything wrong," he told Sky Italia (via Football-Italia) following his side's 2-0 win over Arsenal at the San Paolo. "It's the first time a team has done so well in the Group Stage and still gone out."

At the final whistle, with Napoli having posted a fourth win in the tournament and accumulated 12 points from six matches, the Serie A outfit was nevertheless third in Group F behind both Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund on goal difference.

All three teams had finished level in the standings, but with their nine goals against the "Partenopei" would have needed another goal against the Gunners to go through to the next round.

Perhaps this is why manager Rafael Benitez was rather more composed than Higuain in his post-match remarks. Napoli, as he pointed out, remain a work in progress.

"I think the key is to look at this as a stage during our growth process and proof we are on the right track," he told Sky Italia (via Football-Italia).

He added, "Our Champions League campaign has been very good, as to have 12 points and be so high up the Serie A standings with a new team is an achievement."

 And it is very much a new team.

After being hired to replace outgoing manager Walter Mazzarri in the spring, Benitez and club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis set about a makeover of the squad that ended up bringing 12 new players to the San Paolo.

Among them were Real Madrid trio Jose Callejon, Raul Albiol and Higuain, PSV Eindhoven attacker Dries Mertens and Udinese full-back Pablo Armero, each of whom started against Arsenal.

Gonzalo Higuain scored the first of Napoli's two goals against Arsenal on Wednesday.
Gonzalo Higuain scored the first of Napoli's two goals against Arsenal on Wednesday.Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

But given their lack of European football in recent seasons, Napoli were assigned a low seed for the group stage draw, and as a result, they found themselves in a difficult bracket alongside Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Marseille.

Even so, they managed to beat all three of their rivals and recorded more points than AC Milan, Zenit St. Petersburg, Schalke, Olympiacos, Galatasaray and Bayer Leverkusen, all of which will go into the pot for the round of 16 draw.

"Today proved that with two or three additions we can compete in Serie A and at another level in the Champions League," remarked Benitez.

As for now, however, Napoli will drop into the Europa League—something De Laurentiis isn't all that keen on.

"Going directly into the Europa League...becomes a terrible waste of money and effort," he told Sky Italia (via Football-Italia).