Madrid - Real Madrid shrugged off conceding an early away
goal to take a huge step towards a seventh straight Champions League
quarter-final as goals from Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Casemiro sealed a 3-1
win over Napoli on Wednesday.
Lorenzo Insigne's stunning 40-yard strike had the travelling
hordes in dream land after just eight minutes of the last 16 first leg.
However, Benzema soon headed home an equaliser before Kroos
and Casemiro fired home from outside the box early in the second half to give
the holders a commanding lead ahead of the second leg on March 7.
"We played a great game, above all at the start,"
said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
"The shame was to concede given the start we made, but
we equalised quickly to get back in the game and in the end it is a logical
Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri lamented his side's slackness in
possession, but believes they still have a chance back at the San Paolo given
it had taken what he considered Real's best performance in three months to beat
"Clearly Madrid played their best game of the past
three months and we didn't play our best," said Sarri.
"If we manage to play at our best we are not that far
away. We may lose (in the second leg) but we can go for it."
With former Napoli great Diego Maradona watching on, the
atmosphere reached fever pitch before kick-off as up to 10,000 travelling fans
were estimated to have made the trip from Naples for only their side's second
ever appearance in the last 16.
By contrast, Real are in the knockout stages for the 20th
straight season and it was the home fans who nearly had something to cheer
inside 30 seconds as Benzema's shot from close range was parried by Pepe Reina.
However, it was Napoli who got off to the perfect start just
eight minutes in when Insigne took aim from 40 yards and caught Madrid 'keeper
Keylor Navas out of position with a superb effort that curled around the Costa
Madrid, though, showed the response of champions to level
just 10 minutes later when Dani Carvajal's cross with the outside of his right
boot picked out Benzema to power home a header from close range.
Cristiano Ronaldo should have had one of the two goals he
needs to reach 100 in European competition on 27 minutes when great work from
Benzema and Luka Modric freed the World Player of the Year inside the area, but
he blasted well over the bar.
Madrid's control of the first 45 minutes grew as the half
went on and only a combination of Reina and the post denied the hosts a lead at
This time Ronaldo was inch-perfect with his low cross for
Benzema, but his effort was tipped onto the woodwork and behind by Reina.
The tie did swing decisively in Madrid's favour within 10
minutes of the restart however.
Firstly, Ronaldo played provider once more with a fine run
down the right and measured cut-back for Kroos to slot home from the edge of
Then Napoli were struck by a thunderbolt from the most
unlikely source as defensive midfielder Casemiro pounced on a looping clearance
to volley first-time past a helpless Reina.
Napoli had the chances to set up a thrilling return leg as
Dries Mertens, who had scored 14 goals in his previous 11 appearances, fired
over with the goal at his mercy from former Madrid winger Jose Maria Callejon's
Mertens also saw another effort smothered by Navas from
close range and Callejon a goal ruled out for offside as Napoli slumped to
their first defeat in 19 games.