It was not SSC Napoli's best performance of the season but Monday's hard-fought 1-0 victory at Torino FC in Serie A was exactly what the Partenopei needed ahead of this week's UEFA Europa League round of 16 decider against FC Porto.
Napoli bounced back from last week's 1-0 defeat in Portugal, but it was anything but easy against. Torino hit the woodwork twice and kept goalkeeper Pepe Reina busy before a last-minute Gonzalo Higuaín goal gave Napoli the three points. "We can go into the game against Porto with confidence because we passed a difficult test today," said Rafael Benítez, whose side are third in Serie A, albeit 17 points adrift of leaders Juventus. "We need to get everyone fit again and hope to be fresh for a match that will be like a final for us.
"It's not easy to play at this tempo every three or four days but we will try to do our best because we really care about the Europa League and we want to go as far as possible," added Spanish coach, who led Chelsea FC to glory in last season's UEFA Europa League. He is aiming to become the third coach to win the trophy in successive seasons, the second – after Giovanni Trapattoni – to win it three times, and the first to do so with three different clubs. "We are confident we can still go through after defeat in the first leg."
The victory against Torino had obvious parallels with Napoli's success against AS Roma the previous week, when José Callejón scored the only goal nine minutes from time after the Giallorossi had missed a number of opportunities to forge ahead. Napoli have ridden their luck, perhaps, but also showed their killer instincts. "We've been playing two games a week all season, so it's not always easy to stay sharp," said Benítez. "We created chances, as Torino did, and showed that we are eager to win games right to the end."
Porto will have to be wary of that as they come to Naples, mindful of the manner that Napoli eliminated Swansea City AFC in Italy in the round of 32. Like they did against Roma and Torino, Benítez's men struggled to get off the back foot for much of the game, but found that extra burst of inspiration in the closing stages, Higuaín – again – and Gökhan Inler striking to secure a 3-1 win on the night which extended Napoli's 100% European record at the San Paolo Stadium this season to four games.
"Gonzalo always works hard for the team," Benítez said of Higuaín, who has scored 21 goals in 38 games in all competitions since joining from Real Madrid CF last summer. "I'm very happy with his contribution. However his team-mates help him as much as he helps them." The Argentinian has already replaced Edinson Cavani – now at Paris Saint-Germain – in the affections of some Napoli supporters. Another flourish against Porto – late or otherwise – would be a substantial shove towards the realm of legend.
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