Swansea City and Napoli played out a scoreless draw Thursday evening in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie at the Liberty Stadium in Wales.
Next week the same two teams will meet again in Italy, with the winner over two legs advancing to the round of 16.
The match was perhaps the biggest test yet for Garry Monk, Swansea's new player-manager who took over from the sacked Michael Laudrup. In his short tenure, Monk had already led the Swans to a 3-0 victory over rivals Cardiff City earlier this month in the South Wales derby.
But as Monk said in his pre-match comments, playing Napoli represented an entirely new challenge.
"The priority is staying in the Premier League—that is fundamental for the club. But nights like this don't come around very often," Monk said before the match, per BBC Sport.
Currently in 10th place, the Swans' position is undermined somewhat by the fact that only four points separate them from the relegation places. Up next in the league is a trip to in-form Liverpool, followed by a home match against 15th-placed Crystal Palace.
Napoli, meanwhile, remain in the hunt for silverware on multiple fronts. Though Rafa Benitez's team sit 13 points behind Serie A leaders Juventus, they have already booked a place in this season's Coppa Italia final against Fiorentina.
Striker Gonzalo Higuain started for Napoli despite a back injury suffered during Sunday's victory over Sassuolo in Serie A. His side nearly went ahead in the fourth minute, but Michel Vorm made a fine save on Marek Hamsik's shot from 20 yards.
Following that early chance for the visitors, though, Swansea were the more dangerous side throughout the first half.
Rafael Cabral saved Nathan Dyer's shot in the eighth minute, and Wilfried Bony flashed a powerful effort high and wide three minutes later. Bony had an even better chance in the 23rd minute after running free behind Napoli's defence from Pablo Hernandez's angled pass. But the Ivorian took one too many touches and saw his shot deflected out by the onrushing Cabral.
By then the hosts were fully in control and Bony had yet another chance to make the breakthrough in the 31st minute. Hernandez crossed from deep on the left side of the box for Bony, but Bony's header in the middle was weak, allowing Cabral to save easily.
Jose Canas volleyed over the bar in the 37th minute, and an unmarked Ashley Williams headed off target at the back post three minutes later.
Napoli received bad news just before half-time when Cabral wrenched his knee after landing awkwardly in clearing a Swansea attack. He remained on the pitch after receiving treatment on the pitch but was replaced at half-time by Pepe Reina.
6 - Pablo Hernández created six chances in the first half against Napoli, three more than the total created by the visitors. Strings.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 20, 2014
Napoli improved after the break, creating multiple half-chances within moments of the restart.
Higuain nearly raced on to a long ball in the 48th minute, but Vorm came off his line to clear in time. Higuain then volleyed off target from Hamsik's pass one minute later.
Jose Callejon had the next chance for Napoli, creating space for himself along the edge of the box in the 64th minute. But he poked his shot wide of the far post.
Three minutes later, Swansea had another chance when Williams headed on target from Jonathan De Guzman's curling free-kick. But Reina pushed the ball away to safety.
The hosts had an even better chance in the 77th minute when substitute Jonjo Shelvey teed up Wayne Routledge with a clever lay-off on the left side of the box. Routledge curled a powerful shot on target, but Reina saved.
Bony headed wide from a deflected cross in the 82nd minute. Two minutes later, De Guzman's free-kick found Chico Flores unmarked in the middle of Napoli's box, but Chico flicked his header straight at Reina.
It was the last real chance for the hosts, who will now head to Italy needing a result to continue their European adventure.
|Jonathan De Guzman||6.6|
Ratings via WhoScored.com
Ratings via WhoScored.com
Swansea play at Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday. Napoli host Genoa in Serie A on Monday.