Barcelona back in Champions League quarterfinals after 3-1 win over Napoli




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BARCELONA, Spain — Four years later, Barcelona is again celebrating a triumph in the knockout stage of the Champions League.

The five-time European champions returned to the quarterfinals with a 3-1 win over Napoli on Tuesday.

Fermín López, João Cancelo and Robert Lewandowski scored for Barcelona as it advanced 4-2 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Italy three weeks ago.

Amir Rrahmani scored for Napoli, which couldn’t repeat its last-eight appearance from last season, when it won a knockout round for the first time.

Barcelona had been eliminated in the group stage the last two years and hadn’t reached the quarterfinals since 2019-20, when it lost to Bayern Munich.

“It was an incredible night,” Barcelona midfielder Sergi Roberto said. “It had been four years since this club was where it deserves to be. We have to enjoy this moment.”

In the other Champions League match on Tuesday, Arsenal eliminated Porto in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 aggregate draw.

The Champions League could be Barcelona’s last realistic chance for a title this season. It was eliminated in the Copa del Rey and trails Spanish league leader Real Madrid by seven points. Coach Xavi Hernández already announced he will leave at the end of the season.

“It was a great match, very complete,” Xavi said. “We have been criticized unfairly, and today we showed that this team is prepared to compete in Europe. We are among the best eight teams in Europe. We have to enjoy it.”

The victory also means extra income for Barcelona, which has been struggling financially recently.

The Catalan club is unbeaten in six meetings with Napoli in all competitions.

It struggled to keep the Italian side from threatening after taking the early lead at Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys. Goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen, making his 100th UEFA appearance, was tested often by Napoli’s attack.

Barcelona had a few chances to increase its lead on counterattacks before Lewandowski sealed the win from close range in the 83rd after an assist by substitute Roberto. Lewandowski has scored 13 goals in his last 13 knockout stage games in the Champions League.

López put the hosts ahead with a shot from the middle of the area in the 15th minute after a low cross by Raphinha, who also set up Cancelo’s goal two minutes later. The Brazil forward hit the post from inside the area and the ball bounced back for an easy strike by Cancelo.

Napoli got on the board in the 30th with Rrahmani finding the net with a low left-footed shot for his first European goal.

“We gave them too much space, we lost possession often, we started with the wrong attitude and didn’t defend well,” Napoli coach Francesco Calzona said.

Barcelona teenager Lamine Yamal had a goal disallowed for offside in the 68th.

The last time Barcelona played in the quarterfinals it had also eliminated Napoli 4-2 on aggregate in the round of 16.

Xavi still couldn’t count on several players because of injuries, including Pedri, Frenkie De Jong and Ferran Torres. He played with 17-year-old Pau Cubarsí as a central defender, and the teenager was named the man of the match as he helped contain Napoli’s attack in his European debut.

The other teams that have advanced to the last eight include Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

Source: AP