Friday, November 5, 2010

Gerrard Super Hat-Trick Condemns Napoli

Since losing 2-0 to Everton on October 17, Liverpool have enjoyed a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers and a 1-0 victory at Bolton in the Premier League. The nature of this terrific win will surely lift spirits ahead of the visit of English champions Chelsea on Sunday. A similar outcome in the penultimate Group K game of the Europa League at Steaua Bucharest on December 2 will clinch their place in the last 32 of the tournament. Liverpool lead the section on eight points from four games with Steaua second on five points after their 3-1 win over Utrecht in Romania. Napoli and Utrecht both have three points, but their hopes of progress are surely over. Watched by new owner John W Henry and his wife Linda Pizzuti, Roy Hodgson's side struggled to piece together anything of real note in the first period as the visiting side hustled and harried to some effect. Ezequiel Lavezzi enjoyed a sparkling first period, and gave Napoli the lead when he raced on to a lovely deft header by Edison Cavani to slip the ball beyond home goalkeeper Jose Reina. Apart from a long-range shot by Glen Johnson that was well held by visiting keeper Morgan De Sanctis, Napoli held out with as much ease as they had during the 0-0 draw with the English side in Naples a fortnight ago. Liverpool were transformed when manager Hodgson introduced Gerrard for the robust Milan Jovanovic at the break. Napoli fans held up pictures of former hero Diego Maradona, but it was Gerrard who produced a captain's performance more typical of the 1986 World Cup winner. Inspired by their skipper, Liverpool soon began to make inroads into the heart of the Serie A team, who defended deeper and deeper the longer the match progressed. De Sanctis pulled off a fine diving stop to save from David N'Gog on 51 minutes from Raul Meireles's pass before Meireles inexplicably shot wide from N'Gog's ball 14 minutes later. Gerrard narrowly flicked a free- kick wide of the Napoli goal on 70 minutes from distance, but the Italian side, who had only lost to AC Milan and Chievo this season, would soon be breached. Andrea Dossena was short with a backpass and Gerrard bravely won his 50-50 with De Sanctis to slide the ball into the net on 75 minutes. The Napoli keeper was booked for complaining as his side suddenly began to unravel. How Salvatore Aronica managed to avoid a red card for a brutal late tackle on N'Gog moments later was something of a miracle. UEFA should use video evidence to punish the Napoli player after a tackle that could have ended N'Gog's career, but justice was done after N'Gog hobbled off to be replaced by Lucas on 83 minutes. If Aronica was lucky to stay on the park, the blundering defender hung around long enough to concede a penalty on 87 minutes when he decided to take Johnson out of the play with a blatant foul in the box. Gerrard stepped up to slam the ball low into the left-hand corner of De Sanctis's net, but he wasn't finished there. Jay Spearing was alert to set him up to race into the box and chip the ball over the visiting goalkeeper for the hat-trick a minute later. It completed a merited win on a rousing night for the home fans inside Anfield.

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