Mertens the difference as Napoli and Benfica advance

Substitute Dries Mertens came off the bench to create one goal for José Callejón before himself sealing a win that takes the Italian side through as Group B winners.

See how Napoli secured qualification and top spot in the section thanks to an impressive win in Lisbon. Despite losing, the result was enough for Benfica to reach the last 16 as well.

Dries Mertens came off the bench to inspire Napoli to a 2-1 victory that confirms their place in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 as Group B winners ahead of Benfica.

The Belgian international was introduced just before the hour and within three minutes it was 1-0, his clever flick fooling everyone but José Callejón, who chipped over the advancing keeper and into the net. Mertens then got on the scoresheet with a lovely effort of his own, weaving into the area and firing in off the post.

The last half-hour was a stark contrast to the early stages, when both teams erred on the side of caution knowing that Beşiktaş were waiting in the wings to snatch a top-two spot from their grasp. Yet as the Turkish club imploded at Dynamo Kyiv, ending 6-0 and two men down, the shackles were thrown off in Lisbon.

Callejón: Napoli 'hungry' to go far
Callejón: Napoli 'hungry' to go far

Napoli showed most desire, and Mertens rewarded the intent. Raúl Jiménez halved the deficit late on but there was no denying Napoli.

Key player: José Callejón (Napoli)
Maurizio Sarri often rotates his players but Callejón is exempt: he has missed just one Serie A game since joining Napoli in 2013 – through suspension! The Napoli coach loves Callejón's commitment and hard work, and considers the winger key to the balance of his team. The Spanish forward had already scored seven league goals this term but was yet to find the net in Europe. The cool chip that gave Napoli the lead in Portugal was worth the wait.

José Callejón
José Callejón©AFP/Getty Images

Napoli carry a threat
After flirting with the possibility of becoming the first side ever to qualify after only three fixtures, Napoli had to wait until matchday six to eventually book their slot in the last 16. The Partenopei once again proved they can create opportunities against any opponent but they will have to be more clinical if they want to go far in this competition. The return of Arkadiusz Milik could be just what the doctor ordered in the knockout stage.

Benfica frustrated
Often lauded for their swashbuckling forward forays, Benfica are a joy to behold when in full flight. Yet when they are stifled, as for large parts here, frustration sets in among Rui Vitória's young charges. Hoping to combine the attacking talents of Franco Cervi and Eduardo Salvio out wide with the penetrating runs of Gonçalo Guedes, the Eagles had their wings clipped by rigid and well-drilled guests.

Reporters' views

Dries Mertens sets off in celebration
Dries Mertens sets off in celebration©AFP/Getty Images

Paul Bryan, Benfica (@UEFAcomPaulB)
Benfica achieved a first by qualifying for the UEFA Champions League round of 16 in successive seasons. However, the hosts will be aware of the need for significant improvements in the knockout phase. A run of 17 home games in all competitions without defeat ended against a Napoli outfit deserving of a second win in the section against the Portuguese champions.  

Paolo Menicucci, Napoli (@UEFAcomPaoloM)
Sarri did not even attempt to disguise his tactics on the eve of the match, announcing: "I need a player who can change the game as a substitute." True to his word, on came Mertens and, as he has often done before, he performed the role of super-sub to perfection. It was a delicious touch to send Callejón through, and his own subsequent strike – his fourth of the competition – was wonderful.

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