Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk ousts Napoli, reaches Europa League final
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk reached its first Europa League final beating Napoli 1-0 in Kiev to knock out the Italian favorite 2-1 on aggregate on Thursday.
Dnipro will face defending champion Sevilla in the Polish capital Warsaw on May 27, after the Spanish club won 2-0 in the second leg to beat Fiorentina 5-0 on aggregate.
Yevhen Seleznyov scored Dnipro's late equalizer in the first leg in Italy, and was the star again, heading in a floated left-wing cross from Yevhen Konoplyanka in the 58th minute.
The ball looped off Seleznyov's head as he grappled with Napoli defender Miguel Britos on the edge of the six-yard box, and over goalkeeper Mariano Andujar.
Napoli pushed forward, seeking to take the game to extra time, but Dnipro held firm for the win. That prompted wild celebrations from the players, who threw Seleznyov into the air, and a pitch invasion from jubilant Ukrainian supporters.
Dnipro's victory denies Napoli a shot at its first European trophy since 1989, when the team from Naples won the UEFA Cup with Diego Maradona in the team, and puts further pressure on coach Rafael Benitez.
In heavy rain at Kiev's packed Olimpiyskiy Stadium, a venue chosen because UEFA ruled out Dnipro's home stadium citing security concerns over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, goalkeeper Denys Boyko was solid throughout for Dnipro, twice denying Gonzalo Higuain in the early stages with reaction saves.
He also marshalled his defense late on as Napoli swarmed the Dnipro box, trying to take the game to extra time.
Seleznyov came close with Dnipro's first real chance, when his curving shot skimmed off the wet grass and was tipped wide by Andujar's outstretched fingers.
Seleznyov was again at the center of the action as Dnipro started brightly after the interval, setting up youngster Valeriy Luchkevych on the break for a chance that was wasted with a poor shot, before Seleznyov fired at keeper Andujar minutes later.
Following Seleznyov's goal, winger Dries Mertens was sent on to lead Napoli's push for an equalizer, and fired wide off a slick corner routine. Napoli struggled to get into good shooting positions in the packed Dnipro penalty area.
Set-pieces caused the Ukrainian side problems, however, especially a 77th-minute corner which was headed on, forcing tall defender Douglas to clear off the line with a header.
In the dying minutes, Napoli poured forward, and Dnipro twice came close to scoring another goal on the break. First, Nikola Kalinic forced Andujar into a double save with his legs in the 89th, then Matheus was denied by the smallest of margins in stoppage time as his looping header beat Andujar but bounced off the crossbar.