Swansea's delightful European adventure came to an end at the hands of a formidable Napoli side on Thursday night.
After drawing 0-0 in the home leg, they arrived in Italy as underdogs, but Jonathan De Guzman slid home a fine finish to cancel out Lorenzo Insigne's opener and give his side hope.
Despite the Partenopei's star-studded lineup, they were second best over the course of 180 minutes, but Gonzalo Higuain converted with 13 minutes to go and Gokhan Inler slid home in added time to end a magical run.
A slow, controlled start from Swansea on the deck was the plan, but it lasted all of three minutes as Napoli's high-press, high-energy approach served up an end-to-end spectacle.
Insigne and Higuain both worked good chances inside the first five, but Chico Flores blocked, while Marvin Emnes saw his lifted effort cleared off the line by Raul Albiol shortly after.
By the 15th minute it could have been 1-0 as Higuain blasted a glorious chance over the bar from just eight yards, but the pendulum soon swung in favour of the home side.
A lofted, hopeful ball into Higuain was flicked into the path of Insigne, galloping into reams of space behind the line.The Naples-born starlet then executed a wonderful chipped finish to lob Michel Vorm in goal, with question marks surrounding both Dwight Tiendalli and Ben Davies' defending in the buildup.
The away side appeared stupefied, and Higuain immediately went close with a dangerous strike from outside the box that had Vorm sprawling to his left.
Swansea were struggling to get out of their own third due to the immense pressure the Partenopei were creating, and attacks via Pablo Hernandez and Wayne Routledge quickly became few and far between.
But the complexion of the tie changed after 30 minutes as Jonathan De Guzman found daylight behind the defence following a clever flick with Wilfried Bony, and the Dutch-Canadian slid a left-footed finish in underneath the paws of Pepe Reina.
Bony went on to trouble Reina twice more before half-time, and the goalkeeper was also forced to slide in and clear as Routledge bore down on goal one vs. one.
The second period started in scrappy fashion but with Swansea claiming the controlling hand. With Marek Hamsik patrolling the touchline ominously, looking to enter the fray, the away side cranked up the pressure and searched for an early second goal.
Tiendalli had a penalty claim turned down by the referee, Bony continued to hassle the centre-backs and Hernandez saw a strong run and three vs. two culminate in a poor shot on goal.
Hamsik and Dries Mertens were duly sent on to turn the tide, but it was Swansea who crafted the next opening and a golden one at that.
The impressive Marvin Emnes countered with pace and released Hernandez through on goal, and his cross found Bony free in the box. Unfortunately, the Ivorian's header was inexplicably straight into Reina's chest with space gaping either side.
Emnes was removed for Neil Taylor as the away side looked to shut up shop and contain, but Higuain delivered a killer blow just shy of 10 minutes from time.
Callejon ventured down the right, hit the byline and delivered a low cross into the box. It took a nick off Ben Davies closing it down and fell invitingly for the Argentine hitman who half-volleyed it home with venom.
What followed was relentless pressure from Swansea and whistles from the home crowd as their team retreated deeper and deeper. Tiendalli rose highest to head goalward late on, but Reina's outstretched fingertips were enough to deflect the ball over the bar.
There was still time for some heroic Swansea defending as Davies cleared off the line from Higuain and Vorm tackled Hamsik one vs. one, but Inler converted from close range on the counter in the 93rd minute to seal the victory in full.
Garry Monk was full of praise for his Swans after the final whistle went in Naples, as per Chris Wathan, Wales Online:
I couldn't ask for any more from [my players]. After 180 minutes against a side as good as this, to push them all the way in every minute until the very last one and to have enough chances to win five games let alone one, says everything about how good we are.
I am gutted for them because they deserved more for the application and effort they put in when most teams who come here would sit back.
|Napoli Player Grades|
|Swansea Player Ratings|
|Jonathan De Guzman||DM||7|
Domestically, Napoli travel to Livorno and Swansea host Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon. In Europe, the dream is over for Garry Monk's men.
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