Rangers’ European campaign hangs by the thinnest of threads after a 3-0 defeat to Napoli at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
Having lost their first four Champions League group matches on the bounce, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men came into this game bottom of Group A and facing an uphill struggle to extend their stay in Europe. They knew that, to finish third and secure a Europa League knockout play-off, they would need to match or better Ajax’s result against Liverpool at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
It was never going to be an easy task against a Napoli team on an 11-match winning run. No doubt drawing confidence from his side’s 3-0 victory in the reverse fixture at Ibrox, Luciano Spalletti benched several of his star players in Victor Osimhen, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Piotr Zielinski and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa.
It did little to affect Napoli’s performance. The hosts opened the scoring after 11 minutes when Giovanni Di Lorenzo split the lines with a first-time pass from deep out on the right, setting up Giovanni Simeone to ping a shot past Allan McGregor and into the far corner.
Napoli were 2-0 up five minutes later when Mario Rui made inroads on the left and picked out Simeone with a curling cross, which he headed in from five yards. It looked like the first half could turn into a rout, not least when Di Lorenzo teed up Tanguy Ndombele for a shot which thundered back off the crossbar a few minutes later.
Rangers managed to make it to half-time without sustaining further damage, however, even if they were given a couple of let-offs by Giacomo Raspadori. The visitors had their first attempt on the 40-minute mark when Malik Tillman danced into the area only for Kim Min-jae to throw his body in the way, before Alfredo Morelos was denied by a good save from Alex Meret just before the break.
Simeone came within a whisker of completing his hat-trick after the restart, lobbing McGregor only for the ball to bounce up off the turf and nestle on the roof of the net. Moments later, he tested the Rangers goalkeeper from a tight angle only for McGregor to get down low and save at his near post.
Rangers’ best chance to haul themselves back into the match fell to Morelos. Ben Davies whipped in a ball which looked almost certain to result in a goal, only for the Colombian to let it run between his legs.
Napoli got a third late on, Leo Ostigard rising highest at a corner and planting the ball past McGregor.
Rangers can still secure a Europa League spot in theory thanks to a 3-0 defeat for Ajax but, having lost 4-0 to the Eredivisie giants back in September, their chances of triumphing on head-to-head are extremely slim.
Rangers need a miracle. With five losses from five in Group A, the fact that the Europa League is still within reach for Rangers is a minor miracle in itself.
They have failed to find the net in four of those games, losing by an aggregate scoreline of 19-1 with their only goal coming in their 7-1 drubbing by Liverpool. It’s been a chastening European campaign all told and, if they somehow beat Ajax by the requisite five-goal margin, it will be one of the biggest shocks in recent memory.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Giovanni Simeone (Napoli). Simeone may have scored twice, but he wasn’t the game’s only standout player. Di Lorenzo showed consistent creative brilliance at right-back, while Kim Min-jae gave a towering performance in the centre of defence.
Nonetheless, for setting the tone with his brace, Simeone deserves to get the nod. He came agonisingly close to taking home the match ball, but will have to wait for his first hat-trick in Napoli colours.
Napoli: Meret 7, Rui 7, Kim 8, Ostigard 7, Di Lorenzo 8, Elmas 7, Lobotka 7, Ndombele 7, Raspadori 7, Simeone 8, Politano 6
Subs: Lozano 6, Gaetano 6, Zielinski 5, Zerbin 5, Zanoli N/A
Rangers: McGregor 5, Tavernier 4, King 4, Davies 4, Yilmaz 3, Lundstram 3, Sands 4, Wright 3, Tillman 6, Kent 4, Morelos 4
Subs: Sakala 5, Arfield 5, Colak 4, Barisic 5
11’ GOAL! What an assist. Di Lorenzo picks up the ball on the right and whips a first-time pass through the lines to Simeone, who fires past McGregor and into the far corner.
16’ GOAL! Another fantastic assist, another fantastic goal. Rui scampers up the left and curls a pinpoint cross to Simeone, who scores with a diving header.
21’ OFF THE WOODWORK! Di Lorenzo finds himself in acres of space on the right and cuts inside, teeing up Ndombele. From 20 yards, he rattles the crossbar.
44’ GOOD SAVE! Napoli lose the ball in a dangerous area and Morelos charges forwards. Under pressure from Ostigard, he has a crack at goal only for Meret to get down low to his left and push the ball round the post.
66’ BIG MISS! That was Rangers’ best chance of the match so far. Davies whips a low cross to Morelos who, with the goal at his mercy, somehow fails to connect with the ball.
81’ GOAL! At a corner, Ostigard gets a free header and belts it into the back of the net.