Gonzalo Higuain described Napoli’s Champions League elimination as “absurd” after they exited the tournament despite a 2-0 win over Arsenal on Wednesday night.
Borussia Dortmund’s late winner at Marseille meant Napoli came third in Group F — due to an inferior three-way head-to-head record with the Germans and Arsenal — even though they finished with 12 points having won four of their six games.
No other side in Champions League history had accumulated such a haul and gone out — in contrast, Zenit St Petersburg advanced from Group G with just six points — and Argentina international Higuain struggled afterwards to understand what happened.
“I can’t believe we didn’t make it,” Higuain told sscnapoli.it. “To have been eliminated in this manner seems absurd.
“No one else in the other groups have collected 12 points and not qualified. We have played a fantastic Champions League and we deserved to go through.
“The team has shown its true value and we want to continue like this. We will focus on Serie A and then we have the Europa League adventure to look forward to in February.”
Higuain, who was a summer transfer target for Arsenal, slotted home on 73 minutes to finally break the visitor’s determined resistance.
After midfielder Mikel Arteta was sent off for collecting a somewhat soft second yellow card, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the English Premier League leaders to get back into the tie, which was settled when Jose Callejon chipped in a second during stoppage time.
Despite being eliminated, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis believes his players left the competition with their heads held high. “I have to compliment my players,” De Laurentiis said.
“The team has proved to be at a high level and this gives me further confirmation that (Napoli coach Rafael) Benitez is doing a good job. We are growing and I’m sure with Benitez’s play and with these players we will go far.
“Our project only just started and we will continue on this path. I told my players at the end of the game that they shouldn’t cry but rather celebrate because they have played a great Champions League. They deserve everyone’s praise.”