In-demand Insigne nets as Napoli advance to Champions League group stage


In-demand Insigne nets as Napoli advance to Champions League group stage
Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne celebrates after scoring a goal against Nice. (AFP)

Naples - The 26-year-old Insigne is off the mark quickly this season after taking three months to find the net last year


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Published: Wed 23 Aug 2017, 4:25 PM

Last updated: Wed 23 Aug 2017, 6:36 PM

Lorenzo Insigne netted his 50th goal for Napoli on Tuesday as the in-demand forward helped his team book a place in the Champions League group stage by beating Nice. 
Napoli were already leading through Jose Callejon's goal when Insigne struck from the edge of the penalty area in the 89th minute to complete a 2-0 win on the French Riviera and send his team through 4-0 on aggregate. 
Whether Insigne is still at Napoli next month is unclear, with Barcelona among the leading clubs reported to be interested in signing him before the summer transfer window closes on Aug. 31. 
"I'm proud to hear that top clubs are watching me, but doing well with the Napoli shirt is something I have always dreamt of," Insigne said on the Uefa website. "I think we improved a lot, especially in terms of mentality, hopefully we can also win trophies." 
The 26-year-old Insigne is off the mark quickly this season after taking three months to find the net last year. 
"Lorenzo is an absolute talent," Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. "At the moment he's the player who best represents Italian football." 
There was a very different verdict on Nice's Italian striker, Mario Balotelli, who was described as 'highly inadequate' by coach Lucien Favre. 
Balotelli had been off the pitch arguing with the fourth official, leaving Nice with 10 men early in the second half, when the unmarked Callejon tapped in at the far post to put Napoli in front. Balotelli, who has a checkered disciplinary record, was booed by his own Nice fans when he was later substituted. 
Meanwhile, Celtic held a 5-0 lead over Astana but the Scottish champions were given a scare in Kazakhstan, where they lost 4-3 but still advanced 8-4 on aggregate. The 12 goals over the two games set a scoring record for the Champions League playoff round. 
Kristoffer Ajer's own goal in the 26th minute gave Astana a glimmer of hope of mounting a comeback. Although Scott Sinclair leveled eight minutes later, quick-fire Astana goals at the start of second half from Serikzhan Muzhikov and Patrick Twumasi restored the host's lead on the night. 
Twumasi netted again in the 69th to send Astana into a 4-1 lead but his team still required three more goals to go through. Celtic's nerves were eased by goals in the 80th from Olivier Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths in the 90th. 
Only one side in action on Tuesday were eliminated after winning the first leg. Hapoel Be'er Sheva's 2-1 advantage over Maribor was wiped out by the Slovenian side winning the second leg 1-0 at home. 
Maribor went through 2-2 on away goals to contest the group stage for a third time after previously qualifying in 1999 and 2014. 
Sevilla were through to the group stage for a third successive season after drawing 2-2 with competition newcomer Istanbul Basaksehir to advance 4-3 on aggregate. Sergio Escudero and Wissam Ben Yedder scored for Sevilla. 
Rijeka's first Champions League campaign in 18 years is over after Olympiakos built on their 2-1 first leg success by winning 1-0 in Croatia. The Greek side will contest the group stage for the 18th time. 
The lineup for Thursday's group-stage draw will be completed on Wednesday. Teams losing in the playoff round drop into the group stage of the Europa League in September. 

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