Real Madrid fend off Napoli to reach Champions League quarters

Naples, March 8 (IANS) Sergio Ramos led Real Madrid to a 3-1 victory over Napoli in the second leg as the Spanish football heavyweights entered the Champions League quarter-finals for the seventh consecutive time here.

Napoli on Tuesday took the lead through Dries Mertens in the 24th minute to pile on the pressure on the title holders but Ramos’ headers contributed in two of Real Madrid’s three goals.

This win helped Real Madrid to win 6-2 on aggregate. The Zinedine Zidane-coached side had won in Madrid 3-1 last month.

Having already hoisted the trophy a record 11 times, the Los Blancos are trying to become the first team to win Europe’s elite club competition two years in a row, reports Efe.

Thanks to their away goal in the first leg in Madrid, Napoli, though clearly the underdogs, started the match knowing they could advance with a 2-0 performance.

The hosts started aggressively and the Blancos responded by sitting in and waiting for a chance to punish Napoli on the counter-attack with the pace of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

But the Italian side’s ambition bore fruit in the 24th minute, when Dries Mertens took a pass from Marek Hamsik and beat Blancos goalkeeper Keylor Navas with a low shot to put Napoli ahead 1-0 on Tuesday night and within one on aggregate.

The goal forced Real Madrid to venture more on offence. Ronaldo hit the post in the 29th minute and Mertens did likewise nine minutes later.

Real Madrid were much improved in the second half, with Ramos setting the tone. On successive Toni Kroos corners, the Blancos captain scored in the 52nd and 57th minutes — though the second marker was later charged to Napoli’s Mertens as an own goal — to give the visitors a commanding 5-2 lead on aggregate.

Alvaro Morata added a goal in stoppage time for Real Madrid.

After the match, Real Madrid chief coach said that a much better show in the second half helped them to put pressure on the hosts.

“Coming here and being put under the pressure that they put us under, we knew that we might struggle. The game is played over 90 minutes and we did very well in the second half,” he told Real Madrid website.

“We can’t be happy with the first-half display, but have to be pleased with our second-half performance, in which we got the three goals.”

–IANS

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