NAPLES, Italy, Oct 3 (Reuters) – Real Madrid fought back to secure a barnstorming 3-2 win at Napoli in their Champions League Group C clash on Tuesday, with the Italian side’s keeper Alex Meret scoring an unfortunate own goal to hand the Spaniards victory late in the second half.
Vinicius Jr and Jude Bellingham were both on target for Real in the first half to cancel out a Leo Ostigard header for Napoli, but a Piotr Zielinski penalty early in the second half drew the Italian side level.
Real scored the winner in the 78th minute as a stunning long-range shot from Federico Valverde cannoned off the crossbar straight onto the back of the flailing Meret’s head before deflecting into his own goal.
Real are top of Group C on six points from two games, three ahead Napoli and Braga. Union Berlin are bottom with no points.
While there were frazzled nerves at the end, Real started the game strongly with the Vinicius and Bellingham creating all kinds of trouble for the hosts’ defence.
It was Vinicius’s second game back from a leg injury that sidelined him for more than a month and he looked explosive, constantly linking up with Bellingham as they rekindled their early-season chemistry.
Both had chances to score in the opening minutes but it was Napoli who ended up taking the lead with Ostigard’s header in the 19th minute after Real Madrid keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga failed to punch clear a corner lifted into a crowded six-yard box.
The visitors, however, recovered with strikes from Vinicius and Bellingham within seven first-half minutes.
First Bellingham intercepted a hospital pass by Napoli defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo just outside their penalty area and linked up quickly with Vinicius, who slotted a brilliant angled strike into the far corner in the 27th minute.
Bellingham put Real ahead in the 34th minute with a dazzling effort, dribbling past three Napoli defenders, before guiding a tidy finish out of the goalkeeper’s reach and into the bottom left corner.
But Napoli came back into the game early in the second half and levelled in the 54th minute with Zielinski’s penalty, awarded for a handball by defender Nacho after a VAR check.
Real’s players and coach Carlo Ancelotti were furious with the decision and complained vociferously to referee Clement Turpin, who had first turned down the penalty appeals and waved play on, with the ball seemingly deflecting off Nacho’s boot before hitting his left hand as he slid in to tackle.
“I don’t think it’s a penalty. It’s a rebound from his foot, you can’t just cut the hand off the player,” Ancelotti told Movistar Plus.
Roared on by their fans in a sold-out Diego Maradona stadium, the hosts pushed for the win and almost scored with a Khvicha Kvaratskhelia strike that went just wide while Arrizabalaga made three fine saves from Victor Osimhen’s close-range efforts.
However, veteran midfielder Luka Modric climbed off the bench to liven up Real Madrid late in the game.
He first put it on a plate for Bellingham, who missed a sitter from close range in the 75th minute.
Three minutes later, his corner ended up at the feet of Valverde whose long-range effort found the net off Meret’s head.
“Modric has delivered. We needed more control and he came in really well, with his experience and quality, controlling the game for us when we needed,” Ancelotti said.
Reporting by Fernando Kallas in Madrid
Editing by Toby Davis
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.