Napoli cruised into the Champions League group stage with a 2-0 win away to Nice on Tuesday, scoring their first goal as the Ligue 1 side’s striker Mario Balotelli was arguing with match officials on the touchline.
Jose Callejon took advantage of Napoli’s numerical advantage in the 48th minute of the playoff round second leg tie, handing them an away goal which, added to their 2-0 win from the first leg, effectively ended Nice’s challenge as it left the French side needing to score four goals.
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Lorenzo Insigne added another goal as the Serie A side completed a comfortable 4-0 aggregate win.
Balotelli, who missed the first leg through injury, was sluggish, off the pace and never threatened the Napoli goal and the maverick Italian was eventually substituted during the second half to jeers from the home fans.
The low point of his evening came shortly after the start of the second half when Balotelli went over to the touchline and became embroiled in an argument with match officials.
The row appeared to centre around a white bandage on his wrist which French media said was covering up a bracelet — banned under the laws of the game.
While Balotelli was arguing, Marek Hamsik crossed from the left and Callejon, unmarked at the far post, scored easily.
Nice coach Lucien Favre reacted furiously to the goal while Balotelli continued his discussion with officials.
Insigne wrapped things up in the 89th minute, collecting Faouzi Ghoulam’s pass and firing into the corner.
“I don’t want to comment on Balotelli,” said Favre. “It wasn’t very satisfactory, it was not good enough.”
Favre also complained that Balotelli was too slow in leaving the field when he was substituted.
Napoli’s win ended a dismal run for Italy in the playoff round.
Serie A teams have lost at the same stage of the competition in the last three seasons, with Napoli themselves beaten by Athletic Bilbao in 2014/15, and it will be the first time since 2013/14 that Italy have had three teams in the group stage.
Sevilla suffered a fright, going 1-0 down at home to Istanbul Basaksehir, before drawing 2-2 to win 4-3 on aggregate in another of Tuesday’s five ties.
Former European champions Celtic also progressed when they won 8-4 on aggregate against Kazakhstan’s Astana, although they lost the second leg 4-3 and at one stage trailed 4-1.
Slovenian champions Maribor overcame Israel’s Hapoel Beer-Sheva on away goals after a 1-0 win in the second leg and Olympiakos beat Rijeka 1-0 away to qualify 3-1 on aggregate, denying the Croatian champions a first-ever group stage appearance. (Reuters)