A debate sparked two weeks ago about which team sat in better stead played out resoundingly in Napoli’s favor, with a Roma side that failed to perform to type routed Wednesday at the San Paolo. With goals from José Callejon, Gonzalo Higuaín, and Jorginho, the Partenopei reversed the 3-2 deficit they carried into their Coppa Italia second leg, with a 5-3 aggregated victory clinching their chance to win a second cup in three years.
The 2012 champions are set to face Fiorentina in May’s final, with La Viola clinching their spot after yesterday’s 2-0 win over Udinese in Florence. Turning around the 2-1 edge the Bianconeri earned in Udine, Vincenzo Montella’s team took the first step toward ensuring the battle Fiorentina and Napoli are waging for Italy’s last Champions League spot will carry over into the Coppa final.
The Neapolitans did their part on Wednesday, albeit not without a little help from Roma. Rudi Garcia’s team, up one-goal at kickoff, adopted an uncharacteristically passive stance at the onset, an approach that saw the normally possession-dominant Romans cede control to their hosts. While the tactic gave Napoli a few scares on the counterattack, José Callejon saw Rafa Benítez’s side in front in the 33rd minute, heading home a cross from Christian Maggio to give Napoli the edge on away goals.
Six minutes into the second half, the match was essentially over. Gonzalo Higuaín increased his team’s lead to 4-3 with a 48th minute header, while Jorginho added Napoli’s third of the night three minutes later. With 39 minutes left, Roma needed two goals to force extra time. When Kevin Strootman was sent off in the 79th minute, Roma’s hopes of returning to the Coppa final evaporated.
For a team that’s had so much success controlling games, it was curious to see Roma content to let Napoli keep the ball, yet on the road, in the second leg of a semifinal, and protecting a one-goal lead, you can see why Garcia gave in to temptation. As Roma’s early forays forward showed, there was always a chance Napoli’s push for their go-ahead goal would open the Partenopei up for a counter. Unfortunately for Garcia, the home side struck first, forcing Roma to re-find their normal selves despite trying to be something else.
At halftime, the Giallorossi brought on Maicon at right back. Francesco Totti was only put on after they were down two. By that time, against a team of Napoli’s quality, it was too late. Rafa Benítez was already starting to make his adjustments.
Those adjustments helped ensure Napoli joined Fiorentina in May’s final, by which time the two clubs will be vying for two honors. Though Coppa represents silverware, the greater reward may go to the team that finishes third, thus qualifying for UEFA Champions League. For Benítez and Montella, however, the proposition doesn’t have to be an either-or.