Gonzalo Higuain missed a penalty in the first half and his side were duly punished as his Chievo counterpart stole the three points for his sideNapoli’s first home game of the season ended in disappointment as they were beaten 1-0 by Chievo Verona, Maxi Lopez was the goalscorer, but it was ‘keeper Francesco Bardi who produced the match-winning display.
After an opening day defeat to champions Juventus, Chievo coach Eugenio Corini went for a more defensive formation in an attempt to stifle and frustrate Napoli, who for this match were clad in their new denim-style second kit. And after 90 minutes, Napoli were left feeling decidedly blue.
There may have been a last minute winner on the opening day for coach Rafa Benitez and his men away to Genoa a fortnight ago. But there was to be no dramatic repeat today, the visitors taking all three points almost entirely due to the excellence of Man of the Match Bardi.
Keeping Napoli and their fans quiet may have been Corini’s intention, but it had little effect during the opening period as Napoli pressed throughout the half.
For Napoli, Gonzalo Higuain and Gokhan Inler found space behing the Chievo backline, and it took a desperate block from stopper Bostjan Cesar to deny Jose Callejon.
Lorenzo Insigne, predominantly down the left, was the main instigator for the home team and after 12 minutes he picked out Higuain’s run, his first time header producing a fine save from Bardi.
Three minutes later, the 22-year-old ‘keeper – on loan from Inter - again saved well from Marek Hamsik angled shot, again played in by Insigne, who decided to pose a threat himself a little later from long range, going narrowly wide.
Napoli, and more particularly Higuain, passed up on a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock in the 26th minute from the penalty spot. Cesar collected a yellow card for tripping the Argentine striker as he dribbled into the box. In this his fiftieth game for the club, Higuain elected to take the kick himself, but while he struck the ball with power, Bardi pulled off a brilliant save going to his right to keep the scoreline blank.
On the half-hour, and completely against the flow, Chievo went within the width of the crossbar from taking an unexpected lead when the unmarked Lopez latched on to a through ball, sending his flick off the goal frame.
That was only light relief for the visitors, for minutes later Italian under-21 international Bardi again came to his side’s rescue when he blocked Insigne’s attempted volley with the outside of his right boot.
And, yet again, in the closing seconds of the half, Higuain’s snapshot was matched by the agile Bardi.
So against the odds, Chievo reached the break all-square, much to the frustration of the locals who again witnessed Bardi in unbeatable form minutes into the second half when he launched himself high to his left to keep out Camilo Zuniga’s long-range drive.
Having survived for so long, Chievo took a shock lead after 49 minutes. Hitting on the break after breaking up another Napoli raid, the ball eventually reached Lopez, who clipped his shot, via a slight deflection, above and beyond the diving and previously untroubled Rafael.
Benitez looked bewildered that his side were suddenly behind, gesturing to his players as if to ask for an answer as to what had just happened.
The Spaniard wasted little time in changing his side, Insigne withdrawn and replaced by the Belgian Dries Mertens, and his first delivery from a set piece almost created an opening for Higuain.
With 64 minutes gone, Mertens pass in from the left found Marek Hamsik in space inside the box, but even though he went for placement more than power, it still drew a fantastic save from Bardi, who then parried speculative, swerving drives from Inler and Higuain.
Benitez pitched Genoa match winner Jonathan De Guzman in to the fray along with striker Duvan Zapata, desperately trying to turn around his side’s fortunes.
Chievo nonetheless held out, with Bardi finishing the game with a wonderful stop four minutes into stoppage time to deny Zapata and Napoli.