Slick Napoli consign Wolfsburg to record loss

VfL Wolfsburg 1-4 SSC Napoli
Marek Hamšík struck twice as Rafael Benítez enjoyed a birthday to remember – and Wolfsburg suffered a night to forget.

Marek Hamšík (right) after making it 2-0 in Germany
Marek Hamšík (right) after making it 2-0 in Germany ©Getty Images

Gonzalo Higuaín ends seven games without a goal with the opener
Wolfsburg suffer heaviest ever home defeat in Europe
Rafael Benítez marks his 55th birthday in style
Napoli in last eight for first time since their Diego Maradona-inspired win in 1989
Second leg in Italy next Thursday, before the semi-final draw the next day

Rafael Benítez enjoyed a birthday to remember as SSC Napoli overwhelmed VfL Wolfsburg 4-1 to move to the brink of the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.

Gonzalo Higuaín helped the visitors to a dream start as he recovered his shooting boots, scoring the first and then setting up Marek Hamšík for a second inside 23 minutes. Hamšík grabbed another after the hour before substitutes Manolo Gabbiadini and Nicklas Bendtner exchanged strikes.

The result means Wolfsburg must score only one goal less in the second leg than Napoli have conceded in 11 UEFA Europa League fixtures so far.

Napoli had enjoyed a timely return to form on Sunday after stuttering lately, but few predicted this. Higuaín did the initial damage, an emphatic renewal of his striking instincts after seven long games without a goal.

The wait ended on 15 minutes as Dries Mertens delivered a lovely dinked pass towards the No9. Higuaín, capitalising on Wolfsburg's high defensive line, cushioned the ball before firing high into the net via Diego Benaglio's fingertips.

Rafael Benítez still wary
Rafael Benítez still wary

Suddenly the Argentina striker was everywhere, popping up in midfield not long after to collect the ball from Christian Maggio. A delightful through ball found Hamšík, who slotted in first time.

Higuaín did come second best to Benaglio when he was put through early in the second half but it only delayed the inevitable. Hamšík profited when Josuha Guilavogui contrived to pass straight to José Callejón 25 metres out, then Gabbiadini made it 4-0.

Bendtner at least pulled one back before Gabbiadini hit the crossbar, still rattling from André Schürrle's sumptuous strike just before half-time. A rare high on a night that brought a new low for Wolsburg – their heaviest ever home loss in Europe.

Gonzalo Higuaín fires the visitors ahead after 15 minutes
Gonzalo Higuaín fires the visitors ahead after 15 minutes©Getty Images
The Argentina forward celebrates what was his first goal in seven outings
The Argentina forward celebrates what was his first goal in seven outings©AFP/Getty Images
Marek Hamšík shouts with joy after doubling the lead on 23 minutes
Marek Hamšík shouts with joy after doubling the lead on 23 minutes©AFP/Getty Images
Hamšík (2nd R) accepts the plaudits after making it 2-0
Hamšík (2nd R) accepts the plaudits after making it 2-0©Getty Images
The lively Higuaín forces Ricardo Rodriguez onto the back foot
The lively Higuaín forces Ricardo Rodriguez onto the back foot©AFP/Getty Images
He did not necessarily look it, but Rafael Benítez had a 55th birthday to enjoy
He did not necessarily look it, but Rafael Benítez had a 55th birthday to enjoy©Getty Images
Gonzalo Higuaín looks to bypass the challenges of Josuha Guilavogui and Robin Knoche
Gonzalo Higuaín looks to bypass the challenges of Josuha Guilavogui and Robin Knoche©Getty Images
Marek Hamšík celebrates after scoring his second and Napoli's third of the night
Marek Hamšík celebrates after scoring his second and Napoli's third of the night©AFP/Getty Images
Mariano Andújar, who made two fine stops to deny Wolfsburg, celebrates
Mariano Andújar, who made two fine stops to deny Wolfsburg, celebrates©Getty Images
Wolfsburg stand dejected amid their worst ever home defeat in Europe
Wolfsburg stand dejected amid their worst ever home defeat in Europe©Getty Images
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