Rafael Benitez was right to be wary of dark horses Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk heading into the UEFA Europa League semi-final clash at Stadio San Paulo. The Ukrainian side managed by Myron Markevych managed to escape Italy with a 1-1 draw and a very useful away goal despite being dominated in nearly all other departments across the ninety plus minutes of action by his Napoli side.
Dnipro striker Yevhen Seleznyov came on as a substitute and just 60 seconds later provided a telling contribution less than 10 minutes from the full time whistle. Napoli poured forward recording as many as 19 efforts on the Dnipro goal but all too often couldn’t apply the finish in the final third. Their profligacy in the danger area will be something that they will need to address if they are to break down a resolute Dnipro side who as it stands would be heading into the final.
Dnipro have never made it to a European final before and remain the underdogs to progress to Warsaw. They can take confidence from their home form in the competition. They have not conceded in their last four European home matches which have all been wins. It looks highly likely that they will again surrender the majority of the possession again and set up defensively but they have stated their intent to be more effective on the counter on their home turf.
If Napoli can reach the final it will be their first final appearance since they won the UEFA Cup back in 1988/89. Although Benitez would have wanted to be heading to Ukraine with a lead he will still be confident that his team are capable of scoring goals.
The Partenopei are the top scorers in this season’s competition having netted a grand total of 26 goals since the start of the group stage scoring on average two goals per game. If that doesn’t adequately reflect their attacking prowess, then add in the fact that they have also hit the woodwork a remarkable ten times during this Europa League campaign. They have also conceded the fewest goals of any of the teams left in the competition so are in effect on paper the best team.
Argentine ace Gonzalo Higuain has been tremendous for Napoli this season and has been their main source of goals. He was guilty of missing some good chances in the first leg and will be keen to atone for his errors. Napoli need to score goals and will be going to Ukraine with a ‘must win’ mentality: if they win they will qualify.