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Mertens double eases Napoli past Sparta

SSC Napoli 3-1 AC Sparta Praha
Dries Mertens struck twice for the hosts in the second half to help Rafael Benítez's men start Group I with a win.

Gonzalo Higuaín punches the air after scoring Napoli's first
Gonzalo Higuaín punches the air after scoring Napoli's first ©Getty Images

Dries Mertens scores twice in the second half as Napoli come from behind to win
• Josef Hušbauer powers Sparta Praha ahead in 14th minute
• Gonzalo Higuaín equalises from penalty spot before half-time
• Marek Hamšík and José Callejón hit woodwork for hosts in Group I opener
Next games: Slovan Bratislava v Napoli, Sparta Praha v Young Boys (2 October)

SSC Napoli began their UEFA Europa League campaign on a winning note as Dries Mertens scored twice to guide the hosts to an opening Group I comeback win against AC Sparta Praha.

Having never previously beaten Czech opposition on home turf, the hosts' hoodoo looked set to continue when, after 14 minutes, a corner from the left was cleared to the edge of the area only for Josef Hušbauer to rifle in off the post with a sweetly timed effort.

The lead lasted under ten minutes. The home fans thought a chance had gone begging when Marek Hamšík smashed against the crossbar from inside the area, but the rebound fell to José Callejón, whose shot was blocked by the arm of Costa Nhamoinesu; Gonzalo Higuaín did the rest from the penalty spot.

Callejón then rattled the crossbar from a tight angle shortly afterwards, before Higuaín saw a shot blocked on the turn and Dries Mertens' had an effort saved at the front post by David Bičík.

Jakub Brabec headed a great chance wide shortly after half-time and that cost the visitors dearly as Napoli made them pay in the 51st minute. So often in the box to convert chances, roles were reversed as Higuaín found himself on the right flank, where he drove past his man before rolling into the centre for Mertens to tap in.

Captain Hamšík missed the chance to wrap things up, driving over when sent through, but Mertens duly completed the job nine minutes from time. The Belgium winger ghosted in from the left flank, left two men for dead, and finished inside the near post.

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