Napoli started strongly, but Real came back to win an entertaining encounter, Casemiro providing the highlight with an absolute stunner.
And that’s that! Lorenzo Insigne’s stunning away goal may yet have currency in the return. But the reigning European champions are in the driving seat thanks to Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Casemiro, the latter scoring a stupidly good volley to cap a highly entertaining match. If the return leg in Naples is half as good, we’ll be in for a treat!
90 min +2: Insigne hoicks the ball forward. Pepe blooters it back upfield with purpose. Koulibaly attempts to return the ball, but his launch is blocked by Vazquez, who scampers towards the Napoli box. Koulibaly makes up for his error by sliding the ball back to Reina, who catches the “pass”. The home crowd demand a free kick for picking up a backpass, but that was never going to be given.
90 min +1: There will be three added minutes, of which this is the first. Would both teams take this 3-1 result? Probably.
90 min: The excellent Diawara strips Kroos in the centre circle. He’s got options down both channels, but suddenly he’s swarmed by Madrid men and can’t get what might have been a killer pass away.
88 min: This is better from Marcelo. He jinks and jives down the left before dinking a fine cross into the centre. Morata is waiting for the ball to drop, but Koulibaly is on hand to bash a clearing header upfield.
85 min: Milik’s first task is to chase a clever flick down the centre by Mertens. It’s not a bad ball, but Navas is quickly off his line to smother. Real go down the other end, Morata making good down the right and finding Ronaldo on the penalty spot. Ronaldo selflessly lays off to his left for Marcelo, even though he had opportunity to shoot. Bad idea, because Marcelo drags a dreadful effort across the face of goal and out on the right. He then has the audacity to claim it was a cross, bollocking Morata, who understandably can’t be bothered to argue the point.
84 min: Hamsik, who has been relatively quiet this evening, is hooked for Arkadiusz Milik.
83 min: Real win a corner down the right. Kroos pulls it back to Modric, just to the right of the D. Modric leans back and, looking for the top right, clears the bar.
82 min: Benzema is replaced by Alvaro Morata.
81 min: Now it’s Napoli’s turn to string together some passes. Real can’t get out of their final third. And suddenly they piece a lovely move together! Diawara, to the right of the box, swings one towards Insigne at the far post. Insigne heads back across the six-yard box, and Callejon bundles home! But he’s a yard offside, and the flag goes up. The correct decision, but a lovely move nonetheless.
79 min: Real string a few passes together, pressing Napoli back. Ronaldo very nearly releases Benzema into the box with a cheeky backheel, but the pass is smothered. Napoli look to break upfield, but Mertens is cynically checked by Casemiro. No booking for that. Real have escaped a couple of yellow cards tonight.
78 min: Something of a lull. This match hasn’t had many.
76 min: Mertens is booked for a late clank on Casemiro. As the Real man rolls around, Rodriguez is replaced by Lucas Vazquez.
75 min: Allan comes on for Zielinski.
73 min: Kroos, playing deep, spots a gap in a packed penalty area, slipping a ball down the inside-left channel to release Rodriguez. James swivels and tries to flick the ball past Reina, towards the right-hand side of the goal and in. But Reina sticks out a strong arm, and saves Napoli.
72 min: Insigne robs a daydreaming Casemiro in the middle of the Real half. He advances towards the box. He’s got options, but clanks a poor shot miles over the bar from distance.
71 min: Pepe comes on for Ramos.
70 min: Another chance for Mertens, who is slipped into the box down the left by Ghoulam. Mertens takes a shot from a tight angle. It’s smothered by Navas, and the ball ricochets off Mertens and out for a goal kick. This is far from over. But Napoli need to score the next goal in this tie.
68 min: A huge chance for Napoli! Diawara, in the centre circle, sprays a delightful diagonal pass towards Callejon, just inside the Real box on the right. Callejon cushions a gorgeous ball inside for Mertens, who is free on the penalty spot. He must round off a wonderful move, but blasts over, before falling to the ground in a state of grief. What a miss! That would have put a very different complection on this tie.
67 min: Real stroke it around awhile. Eventually the ball is worked to Casemiro, who has earned the right to have another dig from distance. He looks to curl one into the bottom right from 25 yards, but it’s wide of the target, and Reina had it covered anyway.
66 min: Benzema makes good down the left, then pulls the ball back for Ronaldo, who snatches at his shot from the edge of the box. It’d work in rugby, or NFL, but not here.
64 min: Ronaldo dinks one in from the left. Koulibaly’s clearing header isn’t too hot. Marcelo tries to copy Casemiro from the other flank. Shank! Nope!
63 min: Real have switched off a bit, here. They’re sitting back, inviting Napoli to come at them. The visitors can’t get anything going, but this isn’t too clever. A second away goal for the Serie A side would change the picture dramatically.
62 min: ... and curls one over the bar, while aiming for the top right. A half-decent effort, no more.
61 min: A free kick for Napoli in a dangerous situation, the increasingly reckless Marcelo coming straight through the back of Callejon, just to the right of the D, maybe a couple of yards further out. Yet again the Real full back escapes a booking. Not sure what he has to do. Anyway, the set piece. Ghoulam steps up ...
59 min: Napoli aren’t totally finished yet, of course. Insigne floats a ball down the middle to set Mertens scampering towards the Real box. Mertens very nearly flicks the ball over the head of Varane to carve out a shooting opportunity for himself, but a combination of Varane and Ramos hound him out of it. In the end, he concedes a free kick. But at least that shows the fight isn’t over quite yet.
58 min: Diego Maradona, formerly of Napoli - and Barcelona, of course - is pictured in the stands. He has a face on.
56 min: This tie has suddenly run away from Napoli. Ghoulam tries to create some trouble by whipping in a cross from the left, but Navas has it covered.
Real ping the ball back and forth across the front of the Napoli box. Albiol puts a boot in and hacks half clear. The ball drops to Casemiro, the best part of 30 yards out, down the inside-right channel. He meets the dropping ball with a lazy swish of his boot, and sends a dipping pearler past a helpless Reina and into the bottom left! That is a peach of a goal. Zidane would have been proud of that himself!
53 min: Modric and Rodriguez combine well down the right. Modric has time and space, but there’s nobody in the middle so he settles for the purchase of one corner off Koulibaly. The set piece is worked back to Marcelo, 25 yards out. The resulting effort flies 25 yards over the crossbar.
52 min: Modric is correctly booked for a late clatter into the back of Hamsik.
51 min: Napoli respond bravely, Insigne making space down the left and curling low into the Real box, very nearly finding Callejon free on the penalty spot. But Varane is on hand to clear.
This was beautifully simple. Ronaldo sashays past Koulibaly down the right and reaches the by-line. Benzema is screaming for the pullback in the middle of the box, but he’s ignored in favour of Kroos, who from the right-hand edge of the D steers a first-time shot into the bottom right past a planted Reina. That’s a wonderful goal, and so much for Napoli’s confident start to the half.
48 min: Napoli have started the second half with confidence. They’re pinging the ball around nicely. After a long period of possession, Hysaj is released into acres down the right. But his pullback for Zielinski is poor, and Real clear.
46 min: Mertens is flattened by Marcelo as he looks to receive a pass from Hysaj down the right. He’d have been away into space, so Marcelo is rather fortunate to escape a booking for a cynical bodycheck. The resulting free kick is too far up the park to result in anything.
And we’re off again! Changes there are none. The visitors get the ball rolling for the second half.
Half-time reading: A paean to the star of the 2016 Champions League final. Cristiano Ronaldo? Sergio Ramos? Gareth Bale? No, silly: Mark Clattenburg. Of course.
And that’s your lot for the first half! Not a second of stoppage time is played, so breathless has the opening period been. Excellent entertainment. Real have been on top, but Napoli will be happier at this stage, with an away goal in their pocket. More, please, everyone!
45 min: Rodriguez shows on the left. He scoops a gorgeous curler into the mixer, and it’s inches away from finding the head of Benzema. But Albiol eyebrows it clear.
42 min: Ronaldo is sent scampering into space down the right. He rolls a stunning diagonal pass inside for Benzema, who zips into the Napoli box to meet it. He’s one on one with the advancing Reina, but his sidefooted shot spanks the bottom of the right-hand post and out for a corner. The resulting set piece sees Varane miss a header from close range, allowing Reina to gather. Real so close to taking the lead!
40 min: Rodriguez breaks clear into the Napoli box down the left, but is flagged for offside. He was a good couple of yards ahead of the last man, but in an act of brazen chutzpah wags his finger theatrically at the referee. Saucy James.
39 min: Zielinski is booked for a late slide on Casemiro. There might not have been too much contact there, and the Napoli man complains accordingly.
37 min: Mertens embarks on a skitter towards the Real box. He lays off to the right for Callejon, who is in a lot of space. Callejon’s got nobody to look for in the middle, though, because Mertens was clattered to the ground by a combination of Casemiro and Rodriguez, and couldn’t continue his run. There’s no free kick, and Real mop up.
35 min: Koulibaly brushes Ronaldo off the ball with great disdain, much to the displeasure of both home hero and crowd. Koulibaly cares not a jot, and goes rampaging up the left wing. For a second, it looks as though he might break through Real’s rickety back line, but eventually the dream dies. An entertaining cameo.
32 min: Napoli have been on the rack for a few minutes, but they nearly regain the lead here. Zielinski rakes a pass out to the left for Insigne. He hugs the touchline, cuts inside, and lays off for Hamsik, who slaps a first-time shot inches wide of the left-hand post. Navas probably had that one covered had it been on target, though there’s a half-chance the pace of the strike would have beaten him.
31 min: From the set piece, the ball is worked to Modric on the edge of the D. He looks for the top left, but his shot is deflected and nearly flies into the top right. The resulting corner is easily cleared by the visitors.
29 min: Carvajal is upended down the Real right. A free kick, and a chance for the hosts to load the box. Rodriguez whips a cross in. Nobody can quite win a header. The ball comes back out and he has another go. Reina races off his line and half clears. The ball goes loose on the left this time, and Casemiro is bundled over by Hysaj. A free kick on the by-line, to the left of the Napoli goal.
27 min: Ronaldo should score. Marcelo, Kroos and Modric combine down the inside-left channel to put Napoli on the back foot. Modric slides a pass further down the channel to release Ronaldo into the box. He’s one on one with Reina, but leans back and blasts wildly over the bar. He gesticulates at the linesman for some reason, before realising the gesture makes no sense, and puts his head in his hands instead.
25 min: Casemiro attempts to release Kroos into the area with a pitching-wedge of a pass down the middle from deep. Not quite. Too much on the ball, and Reina can gather. This qualifies as a lull.
23 min: Koulibaly exchanges crisp passes with Insigne down the Napoli left, playing his side out of trouble. He feeds Insigne into a little space along the wing. Insigne pushes the ball past Modric, who intercepts, but only just. Had Modric not been on his guard there, Insigne was away into a sparsely populated Madrid half.
20 min: The Bernabeu had fallen a little quiet during the period between the two goals. Now, not so much. Napoli try to respond with a little front-foot posturing of their own, but despite a little period of possession in the Real half, passes don’t come off in the final third. Good luck guessing the final score of this one.
Real looked rattled for a minute there. But no longer! All of a sudden, they’re level! Rodriguez makes good down the right. He reaches the by-line and pulls the ball back up the flank for Carvajal, who curls, with the outside of his boot, a stunning cross to the far post. On the edge of the six-yard box is Benzema, who rises and plants an unstoppable header past Reina, who couldn’t react. This is some match!
17 min: Napoli ping it around the middle of the park awhile, their first period of calm, considered possession. The locals don’t enjoy it. Eventually an irate Ramos slides in rashly on Diawara. He’s booked for that, and can have no complaints. To be fair to the Real captain, he doesn’t bother making any.
14 min: Ghoulam is flattened by the arm of Casemiro, which clacks into his throat. It looked accidental. Had the Napoli man been paying attention microseconds beforehand, he’d have slipped a simple pass down the middle to release Callejon into acres of space. Real are playing a dangerous game here; there are huge gaps in the heart of their defence. Ghoulam could - nay, should - have sprung the trap again.
12 min: Zinedine Zidane is already prowling the touchline with a concerned look creasing his face. His mood is nearly lightened by Ronaldo, who diddles his way down the left, reaches the by-line, and chips a ball back for Benzema, six yards out. Benzema looks to plant a header into the top right, but doesn’t get enough purchase on it, and the ball drifts off harmlessly to the right.
10 min: There are only 4,000 Napoli fans in the stadium. But you can hear them. Oh you can hear them. That was a stunning goal.
Oh me, oh my! This is astonishing! Hamsik, in the centre circle, threads a glorious ball down the middle to release Insigne into the Real half. He’s 35 yards from goal, but Navas is miles off his line and out of position, so Insigne passes the ball early, past the stranded keeper, and into the bottom right of the goal! That’s a stunning piece of improvisation, an early-taken shot that’s stunned the Bernabeu! Insigne goes racing off in a joyous arc, as well he might!
6 min: Diawara, with time in the centre circle, plays a simple ball straight down the middle of the park. It opens up a dozy Madrid back line, but unfortunately for Napoli, the ball hits Hamsik on the back. A foot or two either side, and Hamsik was latching onto that through ball, racing clear. But no. Real counter, Marcelo cutting in from the left and shanking a terrible shot away to the right. But this is already great fun. No bus parking here.
4 min: This is a beautifully open start to the game. Napoli launch their first attack of the evening, Hamsik striding down the middle in acres before finding Mertens on the left. Mertens loops a cross to the far post, where Callejon awaits, but Navas is off his line quickly to claim. If it keeps going like this, we’re in for a classic.
2 min: That was a fine run by Ronaldo, though Napoli rolled the red carpet along the left flank for him. The visitors - especially the right-back Hysaj - owe Reina a big one.
Here we go, then! A minute of silence in memory of Madrid board member and former president Luis Gómez Montejano, who passed away on 5 February aged 94. And then we’re off. The hosts get the ball rolling. And within 20 seconds, Real nearly score! Ronaldo is allowed to skitter all the way down the left wing, He slips a simple ball into the box for Benzema, who looks for the top left from 12 yards. It’s a fine strike, but it’s met wonderfully by a strong hand from Reina. Quite a start, and a marvellous save by the former Barcelona keeper!
Speaking of aesthetic treats, tonight’s teams are decked out deliciously. Real Madrid are, naturally, wearing their world-famous meringue whites. Napoli, by contrast, sport a third-choice all-black kit. Not one for the purists, admittedly - why aren’t the Italians in their normal Gulf-of-Naples sea blue? - but nonetheless it’s not a bad look.
Anyway, the players are out, and there’s a rare old atmosphere in the Bernabeu. A living mural depicting the Real crest shimmers at one end of the stadium. The anthem parps from the PA system. Songs are sung, hands are shaken. We’ll be off in a minute!
The scene of tonight’s match.
Is there a more glamorous site in football than the venue of the 1982 World Cup final? Nope. Another major international tournament in Spain, please!
Some pre-match reading? Why ever not. Here’s Sid Lowe with a little sweet something for all you Real Madrid supporters out there.
Zinedine Zidane makes three changes to the starting line-up sent out at Osasuna last Saturday. James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal are in; Danilo, Nacho and Isco step down.
Maurizio Sarri swaps two players out of the side he named at home to Genoa on Friday night. Christian Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini lose their starting places to Elseid Hysaj and Jose Callejon.
Real Madrid: Navas, Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Rodriguez, Benzema, Ronaldo.
Subs: Casilla, Pepe, Nacho, Kovacic, Vazquez, Morata, Isco.
Napoli: Reina, Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam, Zielinski, Diawara, Hamsik, Callejon, Mertens, Insigne.
Subs: Cabral, Giaccherini, Allan, Jorginho, Maggio, Maksimovic, Milik.
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia).
According to common consensus, the Champions League is a harder competition to win than the old European Cup. That may well be the case: nobody’s going to get to the final again any time soon by beating Union Luxembourg, Ipswich Town, Galatasaray and Dundee. (Milan ‘63, since you ask.) Still, look at it from another angle: the old boys had to win a domestic league in order to gain entry into the competition, and having come all that way, the draw could be as evil as it was often kind. One difficult first-round tie, and boom, it was all over, perhaps for ever: no group-stage safety net, no second chances, no nigh-on-guaranteed participation the following season. A giant club’s European dreams over in September. Imagine the pressure.
Imagine the pressure in September 1987, then. Real Madrid, reigning champions of Spain, the team of Sanchís, Míchel González, Miguel Pardeza, Rafael Martín Vázquez, and Emilio Butragueño, took on Diego Maradona’s Napoli, champs of Serie A, the strongest league in the world. In the first round of the European Cup. The first round! The good doctor, Sid Lowe, tells that tale here:
Now, nearly 30 years later, Napoli have chance to avenge that 3-1 aggregate defeat. Real, unbeaten in this season’s group stage, are looking to reach the quarters for the seventh successive year, and hope to become the first team to retain their status as European champions in the Champions League era. They’re on an eight-match winning streak at home in Europe, and have won 28 of their last 33 Champions League ties at the Bernabeu.
Napoli on the other hand are looking to reach the quarter-finals for the first time ever. A historical mismatch, certainly, though the two teams are a wee bit closer together in the here and now. Real have lost a couple of games in the last month, against Sevilla in La Liga and Celta Vigo in the Spanish cup, while Napoli are on an 18-game unbeaten streak in all competitions, and 11 days ago stuck seven goals past Bologna. Marek Hamsik is in inspired form; Cristiano Ronaldo meanwhile will play carrying a slight knock. So anything is possible. Napoli go into the match as underdogs, but very dangerous ones indeed. Fascination guaranteed. It’s on!
Kick off: 7.45pm at Guardian Central in London, 8.45pm at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu and in Naples.