Skip to content

Swansea and Napoli show Europa League nights are about to get good

Feb 20, 2014, 5:15 PM EST

Britain Soccer Europa League AP

For much of the year the Europa League is scoffed at.

The bigger teams wouldn’t be seen dead competing in it, the medium sized teams use it as a reserve league for their squad players and there are a few smaller clubs who take it seriously.

Let’s face it, the Europa League lives a tough life as the UEFA Champions League towers over it, as the competition generally gets a pretty bad rep as the smaller brother.

And in case you didn’t know, the eight teams who finish third in their respective groups during the Champions League group stage are bumped down to the Europa League for the Round of 32 action. That means Europe’s second-tier continental tournament suddenly becomes awash with talented teams that didn’t quite make the cut in the UCL.

(MORE: Europa League holds draw for knockout round and Round of 16)

Such teams this season include reigning Italian champions Juventus, Dutch powerhouse Ajax and the extremely unlucky Napoli who somehow failed to qualify for the UCL knockout rounds, after becoming the only team in history to gain 12 points and not make the next stage of Europe’s top club competition.

Instead Napoli had to settle for a spot in the Europa League, and they faced a fired-up Swansea team at the Liberty Stadium on Thursday in an entertaining 0-0 draw. Yes, there were no goals. But the tempo of the game was impressive as both teams went for broke in an enthralling game.

In the first half the home side came flying out of the traps, as Swansea’s Nathan Dyer curled an effort towards the top corner but was denied, Wilfried Bony smashed over and had a shot well saved by Napoli ‘keeper Rafael Cabral, while just before the break Ashely Williams had acres of space in the box but headed over at the back post. At the other end Marek Hamsik smashed in a shot that Michel Vorm saved superbly, as the end-to-end action continued for the entire opening half. After the break Swansea’s tide of chances continued as Williams had another effort at the back post and then Wayne Routledge saw his shot saved superbly by former Liverpool ‘keeper Pepe Reina, who came on at half time following an injury to Cabral. Swansea kept pushing, but the fact that this game ended scoreless was neither here nor there.

(MORE: Much-changed Tottenham fall to Dnipro, as squad players struggle)

The cut and thrust of knockout soccer on the European stage was exciting and as goals flew in across the rest of Europe, the Europa League came to life again. For most of the group stage games, empty stadiums saw placid games play out as many teams used this competition as an afterthought. But now that some of the biggest clubs in Europe find themselves ensconced in a second-tier tournament, they don’t want to be embarrassed by so-called smaller teams, and smaller teams want to embarrass them.

If this Swansea vs. Napoli tie is anything to go by, Thursday’s between now and May mean we are in for a real soccer treat.

Latest Posts
  1. WATCH: Incredible 60-yard pass leads Montreal ouster of Pachuca in CONCACAF Champions League

    Mar 3, 2015, 10:05 PM EST

    @EtienneLyon @EtienneLyon

    Montreal has ensured that Major League Soccer will have at least one semifinalist in this season’s CONCACAF Champions League after a year out of the final four,

  2. Making the case for the Eastern Conference as a better option

    Mar 3, 2015, 9:30 PM EST

    Joze Altidore AP

    Oh MLS: What fun is there in following the narrative?

  3. I Was There: Austin Gooners have their best singing voices ready for Everton

    Mar 3, 2015, 8:40 PM EST

    Austin Gooners

    If you’d like your supporters group to be featured on future episodes of ‘I Was There’ simply send pictures/video to @NBCSportsSoccer or NBC Sports Soccer on Twitter on Facebook using the #IWasThere.”

  4. 2015 MLS season preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

    Mar 3, 2015, 7:47 PM EST

    vancouver_whitecaps

    Vancouver may be missing that huge, huge name but is solid top-to-bottom.

  5. 2015 MLS season preview: Colorado Rapids

    Mar 3, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

    Colorado Rapids logo

    It could be a dark year in Commerce City, but don’t forget that this was a promising young team that floundered last year.

  6. VIDEO: Tim Sherwood thinks Villa found turning point in dramatic 2-1 win

    Mar 3, 2015, 6:47 PM EST

    Aston Villa v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Getty Images

    The brash Englishman is happy to call the win a turning point for his club, which moves out of the relegation zone for the time being.

  7. Tuesday’s Premier League roundup: Saints, Villa win; Hull, Sunderland draw

    Mar 3, 2015, 6:28 PM EST

    Videos, recaps, analysis and more from the three PL games during Week 28 on Tuesday.

  8. Ronald Koeman on Saints’ late win: “This is a key moment in our season”

    Mar 3, 2015, 5:53 PM EST

    Southampton v Crystal Palace - Premier League Getty Images

    After a late win against Palace ended their goal drought, Saints remain in the top four hunt.

  9. After touchline spat and water bucket destruction, Bruce and Poyet both bring humor

    Mar 3, 2015, 5:52 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-PR-HULL-SUNDERLAND Getty Images

    The pair of managers had to be separated on the touchline after Poyet angrily approached Bruce, who had been loudly criticizing a dive from Sunderland’s Jack Rodwell.

  10. 2015 MLS season preview: Toronto FC

    Mar 3, 2015, 5:17 PM EST

    Toronto FC logo

    This should be the year TFC breaks its MLS playoffs’ duck. But nothing’s ever certain in Toronto.

  11. Southampton 1-0 Crystal Palace: Mane’s late goal gets Saints back on track (video)

    Mar 3, 2015, 4:45 PM EST

    Southampton v Crystal Palace - Premier League Getty Images

    Relief for Southampton, as Mane’s goal seals crucial win to keep top four hopes alive.

  12. Hull City 1-1 Sunderland: Rodwell helps Black Cats steal a point (video)

    Mar 3, 2015, 4:42 PM EST

    Hull City v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    The Tigers stay a point ahead of Sunderland. Hull is in 15th place with 27 points.

  13. Referee in Cyprus reveals match-fixing amid accusations from South Africa

    Mar 3, 2015, 3:29 PM EST

    Panayi AP

    A referee in Cyprus has come clean, describing an incredibly deep-rooted problem of match-fixing in the country that makes us wonder how prevalent this problem really is.

  14. FA delays Mackay racism decision as Cardiff board boycotts Wigan trip

    Mar 3, 2015, 2:35 PM EST

    Mackay Getty Images

    The FA says the finding of “significant new information” has led them to extend the investigation.

  15. Watch Live: Hull City vs. Sunderland (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Mar 3, 2015, 2:09 PM EST

    Hull City v Aston Villa - Premier League Getty Images

    A massive relegation six-pointer between these two north east rivals. Watch live online, here.

  16. Watch Live: Aston Villa vs. West Bromwich Albion (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Mar 3, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Tim Sherwood New Aston Villa Manager Press Conference and Photo Call Tim Sherwood New Aston Villa Manager Press Conference and Photo Call

    Can Villa get their first win under Sherwood in this huge Midlands derby? Watch live online, right here.

  17. Watch Live: Southampton vs. Crystal Palace (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Mar 3, 2015, 1:50 PM EST

    Southampton v Crystal Palace - FA Cup Fourth Round Getty Images

    Can Saints get back to winning ways as old boss Pardew brings Palace to town? Watch live online, here.

  18. Update on MLS labor strike: Players Union, league at impasse as situation looks dire

    Mar 3, 2015, 1:33 PM EST

    Don_Garber

    With just over 72 hours to go until the MLS season kicks off, talks between the league and the Players Union still ongoing.