Villarreal, Spain, Dec 8: Gokhan Inler and Marek Hamsik scored second-half goals to secure Napoli's place in the Champions League knockout round with a 2-0 victory at Villarreal on Wednesday.
The result sealed second place in Group A for the Italian club ahead of Manchester City, which finished third despite a 2-0 home win against leader Bayern Munich.
“Nobody gave us much chance, but I think we've got a very complete team that runs and knows how to play with the ball,” said Napoli striker Ezequiel Lavezzi. “This (qualification) is historic, but we want to keep advancing now.”
Napoli, playing in its first Champions League, labored to find a way through the Villarreal defense, but Inler launched a 25-yard drive that left goalkeeper Diego Lopez motionless to break the deadlock in the 65th minute.
Boosted by the breakthrough, Hamsik added a second with a close-range finish in the 76th to give Napoli a comfortable finish.
Villarreal became the first Spanish club to suffer six straight defeats in the Champions League group stage.
“We are sad because we haven't got any points in the competition,” said Villarreal captain Marcos Senna. “We wanted to have the pride of playing well today, but we have lost again.”
Villarreal have endured an injury-blighted start to the season but coach Juan Carlos Garrido was able to include striker Nilmar in a youthful starting lineup as the Brazilian continued his recovery from a knee injury.
Despite having nothing but pride to play for, the Spanish club would have pleased any watching Manchester City fans after starting brightly and carving out half-chances for Marco Ruben in the first half.
Napoli, fielding its lauded attacking trio of Hamsik, Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, made a cagey start with Juan Zuniga threatening and Hamsik flashing a drive wide in the 40th minute.
The Italian club—needing a win with City in front against Bayern—stepped up a gear in the second half.
With the tension building, Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri was sent to the stands for pushing Nilmar on the touchline.
Hamsik began to control possession and started threading dangerous passes through the Villarreal defense, but Napoli almost took the lead in the 62nd through an own goal.
Cavani drove into the box and drew Lopez out of his goal before cutting back for Lavezzi. The striker's first-time shot rebounded off defender Joan Oriol only for Lopez to recover just in time and turn the ball away for a corner.
The respite was only temporary as Inler collected the ball on the right and cut inside before unleashing a powerful left-footed drive that flew in as Lopez watched helplessly.
“We played a good game, but perhaps they wanted it more in the second half. They played well and you can see they are a very good team,” Villarreal midfielder Bruno Soriano said.
Napoli grew in confidence after the strike and Lavezzi forced Lopez into a good save low to his right.
Hamsik calmed the situation with a tap-in following a goalmouth scramble in the 76th to make sure Napoli avoided a nervy finish.