NAPLES, Italy (AP)The superlatives are running out for Napoli and forward Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
Napoli advanced to the last 16 of the Champions League with two matches to spare after another goal and an assist from Kvaratskhelia helped his team beat Ajax 4-2 on Wednesday.
The Italian club is atop both Serie A and its Champions League group and unbeaten in both competitions.
”We deserve to get through. I’m proud of the team and the fans, who really drove us forward,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said. ”We saw the Champions League stars in the true sense of the word because at a certain point my head was spinning given the incredible atmosphere generated by our fans at the stadium.
”I’m lucky to coach a squad like this one. I have professional players here with technical quality. We have to keep championing the style of play that we’ve always had and the same mentality. Credit to the whole team on what’s been a wonderful evening.”
Napoli was in firm control and 2-0 up within 16 minutes thanks to goals from Hirving Lozano and Giacomo Raspadori. Davy Klaassen pulled one back at the start of the second half but Kvaratskhelia restored Napoli’s cushion from the penalty spot.
Steven Bergwijn also converted a late penalty for Ajax before substitute Victor Osimhen sealed the result on his comeback.
”I’m pleased that I got on the scoresheet and I’m also happy with the performance both for me individually and as a team,” Lozano said. ”We’ve qualified with two games to spare and we’re thrilled.
”This historic achievement will stand us in good stead going forward and we’re all proud as a squad and as a club. We’ve been getting some extraordinary results, we’re playing fantastic football and deserve to get through. Now we need to keep working hard as we continue down this path.”
Ajax, which lost 6-1 at home to Napoli last week, will be glad to see the back of the Italian team.
”It may sound a bit strange having just lost 4-2, but I thought we played a good match,” Ajax coach Alfred Schreuder said. ”They are strong opponents. You see that in the way they play, in their tempo, in everything.”
Napoli, which has scored 17 goals in its four matches, maintained its perfect record in the Champions League. It was three points above second-placed Liverpool, which won 7-1 at Rangers, and nine points above Ajax.
Napoli got off to the perfect start at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona as it took the lead in under four minutes. Piotr Zielinski started the move and helped end it when Lozano played a pass to him before continuing his run and nodding the return past goalkeeper Remko Pasveer.
Kvaratskhelia almost scored a stunning second before helping Napoli double its lead in the 16th minute with a run down the left and a cross for Raspadori to blast in for his fourth Champions League goal in three matches.
Ajax halved the deficit four minutes after the break as Klaassen headed in Calvin Bassey’s cross but Napoli restored its two-goal advantage in the 62nd when Kvaratskhelia fired a penalty into the top left corner after Jurrien Timber charged down a shot with his arm.
Ajax had a spotkick of its own seven minutes from time after Juan Jesus was adjudged to have hauled down Brian Brobbey. Bergwijn confidently converted.
Osimhen was desperate to score on his first appearance after more than a month out with injury and he did so in stoppage time as his persistence paid off when he stole the ball off the Ajax defender Daley Blind and fired into the empty net.
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