NAPLES: Lorenzo Insigne beat former Italy teammate Gianluigi Buffon from the spot to keep Napoli well in the hunt for a place in the last 16 of the Champions League thanks to a 1-1 draw at home to Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday.
PSG travelled to the Stadio San Paolo looking to go one better after being held to a 2-2 draw in the French capital two weeks ago.
But after Juan Bernat capped a dominant first-half performance from PSG to hit the opener on the stroke of half-time, Insigne made no mistake when the hosts were awarded a penalty just after the hour as Jose Callejon was sandwiched in the area.
The result sees Napoli go top of Group C, level on points with Liverpool following their shock 2-0 defeat by Red Star Belgrade earlier Tuesday.
But in comments to Sky Sport, coach Carlo Ancelotti warned qualification is not secure yet.
“We’ll have to battle until the very end, we’re holding on tight,” said Ancelotti.
PSG sit third, only one point adrift, leaving Buffon with plenty of belief in their last-16 chances.
“Paris played a great game, it was a solid performance and I’m happy because I think we’re on the right road,” Buffon told RMC Sport.
“Red Star did both us and Napoli a big favour earlier but there’s everything to play for in the final matches.
“But I’m confident because we’re improving and each draw for us sends an important message.”
In what was captain Marek Hamsik’s record 512th appearance for Napoli, former teammate Edinson Cavani played only a cameo role after replacing Angel Di Maria for the final quarter-hour.
It left Neymar and Kylian Mbappe pulling the strings up front for the visitors, who produced a strong first 45 minutes that had Napoli’s demanding fans frustrated throughout.
The first real scare for Napoli came on 23 minutes when Mbappe ran on to Neymar’s looping cross to fire a left-footed half volley that dipped just over David Ospina’s crossbar.
After Mertens poked wide of Buffon’s upright after a well-worked free-kick, Kalidou Koulibaly rescued the Italians twice in succession with a well-timed tackle on Mbappe and a timely interception to prevent Mbappe reaching Thomas Meunier’s pass.
– Mbappe magic –
At the other end, Callejon set up Insigne for a deft volley which the diminutive Napoli midfielder fired a yard wide of Buffon’s upright.
But Napoli’s fans were in despair moments later courtesy of more Mbappe magic.
The World Cup star’s pace carried him on to a cross down the left and he bamboozled Raul Albiol before sending a deft cutback into the path of Bernat.
The Spaniard took a touch and, as he fell to the turf, swiped with his right foot to stun Ospina.
A half-time pep talk by Ancelotti appeared to have had the desired effect when a far more enterprising Napoli emerged after the interval, with the 40-year-old Buffon rolling back the years with some fine saves.
The former World Cup winner first stretched to palm Nikola Maksimovic’s angled effort to safety before guiding Mertens’ lobbed effort over the bar moments later.
Napoli should have scored when acrobatic control by Mertens set up Callejon to the right of Buffon’s goal, but the Spaniard bundled wide.
As PSG panicked at the back, Buffon palmed Callejon’s close-range cross into the path of Mertens only for the Belgian to fire over from two yards out.
Napoli fans were further frustrated when former Juventus legend Buffon stood his ground to parry Fabian Ruiz’s first-timer following Mertens’ cross.
Buffon was finally beaten, but only from the spot, by Insigne’s 62nd-minute penalty.
PSG coach Thomas Tuchel introduced Cavani for the final 14 minutes while Mertens, holding an injured arm, was replaced by Adam Ounas.
The much-needed boost in attack failed to materialise for PSG, who five minutes from time saw Mbappe somehow sweep his strike from Thilo Kehrer’s delivery wide of Ospina’s upright when eight yards from goal. —AFP