"We dared to dream," said an emotional Edinson Cavani after his last-gasp winner sent SSC Napoli into the round of 32 from Group K with a dramatic 1-0 defeat of FC Steaua Bucureşti.
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An ebullient Edinson Cavani hailed SSC Napoli's never-say-die attitude as the Partenopei carried Italy's UEFA Europa League ambitions into the new year with a stunning last-gasp victory against FC Steaua Bucureşti.
For the first 92 minutes at the Stadio San Paolo it was Romanian visitors Steaua who held second spot in Group K and a place in Friday's knockout draw. Cavani, though, had other ideas as he got ahead of his marker and glanced Marek Hamšík's corner through a wall of bodies and into the net.
"I'm very happy," the shy 23-year-old said when asked to describe his feelings – an inability to suppress a beaming smile was more telling. "Steaua gave us little room. It was a difficult battle right until the end. Thank God: we dared to dream. We knew how hard it was going to be but we never lost faith and fought right until the end."
It was the sort of Hollywood ending Napoli president and movie producer Aurelio De Laurentiis would appreciate but the stuff of nightmares for Steaua. Marius Lăcătuş's side were 3-0 up inside 16 minutes of the reverse fixture on Matchday 2 before a dismissal turned the tide. Napoli finally gained parity eight minutes into added time, with that man Cavani the hero.
The Uruguayan striker's repeat dose was his seventh goal in the competition and 21st in all competitions this season and the €17m Napoli have agreed to pay US Città di Palermo for his services looks a bargain. His latest rescue act is all the more impressive considering he was without usual sidekick Ezequiel Lavezzi, ruled out with an ankle problem.
"The absence of 'Pocho' is important because he has the ability to out-jump a man," Cavani said. "A player like me needs someone like him but we have shown we can win even without Lavezzi."
Cavani is likely to shoulder the attacking burden again when Napoli, third in Serie A, meet US Lecce on Sunday but before then is the round of 32 draw in Nyon, Switzerland. Just how far can the 1989 UEFA Cup winners go?
"It depends on Friday's draw," said Andrea Dossena. "We do not limit ourselves. We saw tonight what happens when we give our all, every drop of sweat." Steaua discovered that in the cruellest of manners.