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Sparta thwarted as Napoli march on

AC Sparta Praha 0-0 SSC Napoli
Josef Hušbauer and Marek Matějovský hit the bar for the home side in Group I with a point enough to take the visitors through to the round of 32.

Napoli Gonzalo Higuaín shields the ball from Sparta's Mario Holek
Napoli Gonzalo Higuaín shields the ball from Sparta's Mario Holek ©AFP/Getty Images

Sparta remain unbeaten after potential Group I decider ends goalless
Point enough to take Napoli through to the round of 32
Home side hit the crossbar twice in Prague
Marek Hamšík passes up two late chances for Napoli
Next games: Young Boys v Sparta, Napoli v Slovan Bratislava (11 December)

AC Sparta Praha maintained their unbeaten run in Group I with a 0-0 draw which confirmed SSC Napoli's place in the UEFA Europa League round of 32.

The game was set up to be an intriguing one, with Sparta topping the section but level on nine points with Napoli. The home side took command from the off, and five minutes in David Lafata found Bořek Dočkal on the right but his effort was saved at the front post by Rafael Cabral.

Shortly after the quarter-hour came the closest call of the opening period. Josef Hušbauer rattled the crossbar with a shot from outside the penalty area, and the ball fell to Lafata in front of goal only for Cabral to make a fantastic stop with his right hand to claw the striker's header away.

After the break, Raúl Albiol deflected José Callejón's corner onto the post but Lafata managed to scramble the ball away before Marek Štěch could be tested in the Sparta goal. A Callejón attempt was blocked a few moments later, but Napoli struggled to maintain attacking momentum.

However, the Serie A team did not look vulnerable at the back until the 75th minute when Marek Matějovský's drive from outside the box set the Napoli crossbar shuddering again. Marek Hamšík might have won it with a header and a right-footed shot later, but the draw means Napoli can finish no lower than second in the section, regardless of the result of their final game, at home to ŠK Slovan Bratislava.