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UEFA Champions League
11 December 2013
• Stadio San Paolo, Napoli
Referee: V. Kassai
• Attendance: 34027
G. Higuaín 73'
José Callejón 90'+
Well that's it folks. Bask in it. Breathe it in. What a finish. I think I need to take a cold shower. Too much excitement for one day. It's been an insane ride. From me, Keeghann Sinanan, see you next time.
Let's not forget Arsenal, who escape by the skin of their teeth. It was nearly a collapse for the ages from Wenger's men. Luckily for them, Callejon's goal came too late for Napoli to launch one last attack. The Gunners, three points ahead of everyone else at the start of play, now rather meekly sneak into the knockout stages as runners up in Group F.
It all came down the the last bitter kick. The last 15 minutes of play in Group F were among the most heart-stopping that I've ever witnessed. Napoli were heading out, but Arteta's red card and Higuain's goal put them in position to advance. But Dortmund, now on the chopping block, move from an Europa League spot to qualification as group winners thanks to Grosskreutz's late, late goal to win at Marseille.
So we bring the curtain down to what has been, in my opinion, probably the most epic and thrilling group stage to any major football tournament ever. Three teams finish on 12 points from half a dozen games. Meanwhile, Zenit qualify from their group with six.
90' + 5'
IT'S FINISHED 2-0 HERE, AND 2-1 FOR DORTMUND IN FRANCE!
90' + 4'
No time left for Napoli to get the ball back, as the referee blows the final whistle right after restarting the game!
90' + 3'
Assist Lorenzo Insigne
90' + 3'
Goal José Callejón
90' + 3'
MY WORD WHAT A FINISH FROM CALLEJON AND TO THE GAME! The former Madrid man beats the offside trap and hooks a shot over Szczesny into the back of the net, but too little too late?
90' + 3'
NAPOLI SCORE AGAIN!
90' + 3'
Gibbs wins a crucial throw in near the Napoli corner flag and that may be that.
90' + 2'
Arsenal just have to play hoof ball in the little time that remained. The news of the Dortmund goal, rather than inspiring and galvanizing, seems to have broken Napoli completely in two.
90' + 1'
Into the first of three added minutes. Three minutes for Napoli to score twice. Is it too tall an order at this point?
Benitez struggling frantically to get the message across to his players to push forward and go for broke. We knew that it would go right down to the wire. Now, Dortmund are in position to take top spot with Arsenal second!
HERE IT COMES! DORTMUND HAVE SCORED! Grosskreutz has given them the lead against Marseille, and now the hosts need two more in the little time that remains!
Napoli look fairly happy with this scoreline which will send them through. But it;s a dangerous game to play as Dortmund are one goal away from throwing a monkey wrench in their best laid plans.
Still 1-1 in France, and 1-0 here. Arsenal will progress as group leaders with Napoli in second should this score hold.
Yellow Card Federico Fernández
Yellow Card Aaron Ramsey
Arsenal living dangerously at the back as Armero smuggles in a great low cross that flashes into the six yard area, but there are no takers in a yellow shirt!
Arsenal have dropped into a broad 4-4-1 since Arteta's dismissal. Giroud is plowing a lone furrow up front, but he won't be looking for a goal at all at this late stage.
Napoli have all the belief and all the momentum with the game just over 10 minutes plus stoppage time from conclusion. As things stand, Napoli and Arsenal will go through, but one goal from Dortmund against Marseille could change things mightily.
Quite frankly a stupid challenge from the midfielder, who should know better. He barges late into Callejon, who had the step on him, and leaves the referee with no choice but to give him a second yellow.
Yellow/Red Mikel Amatrian Arteta
ARTETA SENT OFF!
Wenger has responded by bringing on Monreal on for Rosicky to solidify the left flank. Arsenal still are sitting pretty, as Napoli need to score twice more and Dortmund once to knock them out of contention. But how about the hosts, getting that all important goal to put them within reach of the next round!
Assist José Callejón
Goal Gonzalo Higuaín
What a clutch goal from the striker! He links well with Callejon and, just inside the box, his turn is too quick for Mertesacker, and he places a deft finish into the far side!
HIGUAIN SCORES! 1-0 NAPOLI!
Szczesny with two displays of brave goalkeeping in two minutes, punching clear Mertens' free kick under pressure, before diving in to smother the return ball in from the feet of Insigne.
Callejon shows great hustle to squeeze a pass through under pressure, and Higuain advances on the near post and lets fly...but it's over the bar! The groans from the San Paolo faithful tells the story.
Giroud picks up a careless yellow card for kicking the ball away after getting called for an offside. Meanwhile, Ramsey comes on for Cazorla.
Yellow Card Olivier Giroud
Marseille are still surviving a Dortmund onslaught with 10 men, and are holding the Germans to a 1-1 score in France. Reus has hit the post in one of a series of near misses.
No doubt that the San Paolo has been re-awakened here. It's going to be a long finish to the game from Arsenal's perspective, with still 24 minutes and change to go.
Koscielny caught out of position after a risky headed clearance fell short, but shows good recovery pace to sprint back in to cover Callejon! The former Madrid man still manages to squeeze in a shot, but it flashes wide of Szczesny's far post!
Yellow Card Mikel Amatrian Arteta
Arteta booked for taking out Behrami with a lunge, a deserved caution for the veteran midfielder.
Under pressure from Insigne, Mertesacker nearly gets caught in possession, and panicking, he just about manages to kick the ball out for a throw. Napoli cranking it up!
Starting to pick up from a Napoli point of view as Maggio's great cross from deep is nearly met by Callejon, who evaded Mertesacker at the near post!
Jenkinson is caught out of position again by Armero, who overlaps magnificently and is one on one with Szczesny! Napoli fans hold their breath, but the Colombian cuts onto his weaker right foot and fires a weak finish right at Szczesny! That could and should have been 1-0!
First sub of the night as the rather anonymous Pandev makes way for the pocket rocket Insigne.
Good spell from Arsenal in front of the Napoli box, as Giroud is nearly played in by Cazorla on the right hand side, but Albiol defends his man excellently, and gets a toe in.
Rosicky, who gives away a careless free kick, makes amends by heading clear Mertens' resulting delivery at the near post. The game playing right into Arsenal's hands as they stifle the life out of proceedings.
Jenkinson has picked his moments to get forward well so far, but each time, he's not been able to get his cross past the first man. Again, the fullback fails to get a ball in, as Armero jumps in the way to block.
Arsenal's turn to take a spell on the ball, as they leisurely pass the ball around the opposition half, with the home fans whistling in frustration. Ozil finds space to line up a shot from 25 yards, but it's not even close to troubling Cabral.
Napoli with all of the ball to start the second half, with Jenkinson's right flank in particular coming under siege from Armero. Solid defense so far again from the Gunners.
Wenger and his sleeping bag coat are back on the sidelines, and the second half gets underway.
So far so good from a Gunners perspective. Arsenal are halfway there to seeing the job through. In truth, save from a pair of rash moments from Szczesny, Napoli have rarely threatened.
Right on 45 minutes, the referee blows the whistle for half time.
Szczesny nearly hams it up in spectacular fashion. The keeper takes a stupid and needless risk by attempting a backpass with Higuain closing down, and is thankful to see the ball bounce off the striker and into the side netting. He looks down at the pitch as if to suggest blame on the playing surface, but he's not fooling anyone.
Dzemaili is the next man in the book for bundling down Koscielny, who had strode forward from the back. More carelessness from Napoli.
Yellow Card Blerim Dzemaili
Mertens needs to be careful having just been booked. He barges carelessly into the back of Giroud, and concedes the foul within the line of sight of the ref.
Szczesny nearly caught with his hand in the cookie jar! He races off his line to stop Maggio, who had broken free excellently down the right. The wing back beats him to the ball, but attempts a chip with a high degree of difficulty that goes over the top.
Yellow Card Dries Mertens
As improved as Giroud has been this season, you get the feeling that his link up play lives and dies by his flicks. With his back to goal and under no pressure, he elects to one touch the ball behind the back line, but had he got his head up, he would have seen that no one was in position to make the run.
Payet has been sent off for Marseille, who are now down to 10 men against Dortmund...
Callejon caught offside far too easily, before he gets the ball on the next play, and tries to test Szczesny with a long range try, but sees the ball go over the top.
Half an hour gone, and with the score still 1-1 in the south of France, Napoli are set to be eliminated as things stand. At the same time, one goal for the Italians would send them through at the expense of Dortmund if the current scores are canon.
The game shaping up fairly well as far as Arsenal are concerned. Their back four looks more composed after the initial spell of Napoli pressure, and are now sitting deep again, looking for opportunities on the counter. Napoli though are getting back well every time they lose the ball.
It's been more like the Arsenal we're used to seeing in the last few minutes. They've held the ball with impunity in the opposition half, and are forcing Napoli to do the chasing off the ball.
Just as I criticize them, Arteta plays a crucial part in a nice Arsenal move, as Giroud is freed down the left. The striker is a little clumsy in his attempts to get the ball out from under his feet, but still manages to test Cabral, with Ozil rather embarrassingly hashing the rebound.
The Spanish duo for Arsenal, Cazorla and Arteta, have really found the pickings slim so far in the game. Their normally intricate, composed passing has been nowhere in sight, as the pressing from the hosts have forced them into errors more than once.
The energetic Armero has got in behind Jenkinson and squeezes a cross into the danger area, but Mertesacker is there at the near post to hack away. It's been a splendid start to the game from the Colombian wing back.
Armero just about wins a foot race against Rosicky, preventing the Czech midfielder from getting down on the overlap in space for a cross, with Giroud placed menacingly in the box.
Intricately worked by the Italians, with Higuain clipped through on the right channel, but Koscielny is across to cover the striker well, and robs him of the ball.
Dangerous free kick for Napoli after Rosicky fouled Higuain. Insigne is on the bench, so Mertens is the man in charge.
Hang on, Souleymane Diawara has leveled for Marseille against Dortmund! 1-1 in France!
Pressure mounting against Arsenal as Napoli, fueled by this raucous crowd, are pushing them to the edge of their box. Halfhearted appeals for a handball against Koscielny go unanswered by the referee.
Higuain turns away from Gibbs on the left and drills a low cross intended for Pandev in the centre, but Mertesacker intercepts excellently. More his comfort zone.
A Cazorla giveaway sets Napoli on the break again, and Mertesacker is exposed for pace again, but the hosts cannot make it count. He's looking a little uncomfortable in the early goings, the BFG.
Mertens clips a glorious ball over the top, and Pandev has the step on Mertesacker. The German defender beckons for Koscielny to cover, but then fails to close down Pandev in time. Thankfully for him, the Macedonian striker drills right at Szczesny.
It's been Napoli who have settled the better to start this one. Armero finds space to gallop down the left, and with options to pick out in the box, he lofts one into the area, but it's bread and butter for Szczesny.
Poor pass from Giroud to destroy a potential Gunners break. Ozil was streaking clear in the hole, but the Frenchman's ball was comfortably short.
Robert Lewandowski has given Dortmund the lead very early on against Marseille. That makes it even more desperate, as Napoli now need to score as things stand. Early days still though.
Here we go!
Napoli can call on Insigne should they need some offensive spark, and Inler should there be a need to shore things up in the closing stages. It's all set up nicely. Kickoff is moments away.
Arsenal's bench is particularly impressive, with the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey and Walcott in reserve - three players who would start any other day. Walcott in particular has been effective off the bench against tiring legs in recent matches, and could appear as a counter attacking outlet should Arsenal elect to sit deep in the latter stages. Shout out to my man Bendtner as well. Yeah I said it.
Here come the teams, and interestingly, Napoli have chosen to don their yellow away kit instead of their regular sky blue strip, despite no clash with Arsenal's traditional red and white uniform.
Benitez meanwhile makes a few swaps in his XI after an epic 3-3 draw against Udinese last weekend. Inler and Insigne miss out on a starting spot, while Reveillere and the injured Hamsik are absent from the matchday squad entirely. Pablo Armero, Valon Behrami and Dries Mertens have been drafted in from the start.
Wenger leaves out Wilshere and Ramsey with key matches against the likes of Manchester City to come. Their replacements, Rosicky and Flamini, are hardly chopped liver though, and it's still a strong XI from the Gunners. Cazorla, despite his bad form this season, again starts ahead of the fit-again Walcott.
NAPOLI BENCH: Colombo, Uvini, Bristos, Insigne, Cannavaro, Inler, Zapata.
NAPOLI: Rafael, Maggio, Fernandez, Albiol, Armero, Dzemaili, Behrami, Callejon, Pandev, Mertens, Higuain.
ARSENAL BENCH: Fabianski, Vermaelen, Monreal, Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Bendtner.
ARSENAL: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud.
Anyway, onto the teams for tonight's game.
Really, that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as the Group F permutations go. But those are the most pertinent and likely scenarios, and I'll do my best to keep you updated with the live qualification status for Group F during the match.
Dortmund need to at least match Napoli's result tonight to stand any chance of qualification. The German side have the head to head boost on the other two, so they will progress if they finish level on points with anyone else.
Napoli need to win by 3-0 or better to be sure of a spot in the next round. If they fail to reach that score, or fail to take maximum points, then they must hope for Marseille to get a result against BVB.
The Gunners will sew up first place with at least a point. They will still qualify once Napoli do not win by a bigger margin than 2-0. Even if they are thrashed in Naples, qualification is still possible provided that Dortmund do not win against Marseille.
So onto the permutations. At the start of play, Arsenal are first on 12 points, followed by Dortmund and then Napoli on nine points each. Dortmund have the head to head advantage on the other two, while Napoli, with a 2-0 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates, need to better that score in order to better Arsene Wenger's men on head to head.
It's all come down to the wire in Group F, which has been one of the most competitive, incredible groups we've ever seen in this tournament. One of these sides has a very good chance of missing out on the knockout stages despite finishing on 12 points. Quite ridiculous, when you witness the likes of Galatasaray progress with seven points, while over in Group G, Zenit could advance with as little as six.
Greetings everyone, and welcome to the final round of the Champions League group stages. Tonight, we're at San Paolo, for Napoli's showdown with Arsenal. Bringing you all the action from Naples, I'm Keeghann Sinanan.
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