Champions League

Mertens, Hamsik lift Napoli in battle for UCL last 16

2018-11-29 07:23
Dries Mertens
Dries Mertens (Getty Images)

Milan - Dries Mertens bagged a brace to add to Marek Hamsik's early goal as Napoli beat Red Star Belgrade 3-1 on Wednesday to go top of their Champions League Group C but the battle for a place in the knock-out rounds will go down to the wire in the final round of games mid-December.

Carlo Ancelotti's Serie A club have to wait to advance to the knock-out rounds after French champions Paris Saint-Germain beat Liverpool 2-1 in France.

Hamsik got the hosts off the mark after 11 minutes in Naples with Mertens adding two more either side of half-time to lift the Italians before the final game at Anfield.

"I said it wasn't going to be a decisive match," said Ancelotti.

"We've done what we needed to. We're top of the group so you have to be positive."

Napoli now have nine points, one more than PSG with Liverpool back on six.

That means a point at Anfield would be enough for Napoli to reach the round of 16 at the expense of Liverpool.

Red Star are fourth on four points, but they will finish third if they win at home to PSG in their final fixture and Liverpool lose at home to Napoli.

The Italians are unbeaten in this year's competition and welcomed Red Star Belgrade after playing a 0-0 draw in Belgrade.

Ancelotti's side were reeling after being held 0-0 by bottom Serie A club Chievo at the weekend to fall eight points behind Juventus.

And three-time Champions League winning coach Ancelotti had warned his team they would be "proper idiots" not to qualify for the last 16 of this year's competition.

Mertens century

They came out firing with Mertens almost scoring the opener after five minutes at the Stadio San Paulo, with a clever back-heel flick from a Jose Callejon assist denied by Red Star goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

But minutes later captain Hamsik broke through with a close range volley as the club's record all-time goal scorer finding the net for the first time this season.

Veljko Simic had a chance for Red Star but was denied by Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina with one hand.

And Senegalese centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly almost grabbed the hosts' second after 28 minutes racing to pick up a Jose Callejon cross but his header was tipped over by Milan Borjan.

Fabian Ruiz sent in a cross for Mertens with the Belgian tapping in his first after 33 minutes, completing his brace six minutes after the break to bring his tally to 100 goals in the Napoli jersey.

Red Star were not bowed with Camorian forward Ben Nabouhane pulling a goal back for the visitors afer 57 minutes.

The goal could have an impact on the standings with all still up for grabs between Napoli, PSG and Liverpool.

"Liverpool are tough, but we've proved we can beat them and I think it'll be a spectacular game at Anfield," Hamsik told Sky Sport Italia.

Napoli beat Liverpool 1-0 in their home leg, thanks to a 90th-minute Lorenzo Insigne goal.

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