Dries Mertens scored twice as Napoli came from behind to begin their UEFA Europa League Group I campaign with a 3-1 win over Sparta Prague. The Serie A side had fallen behind to Josef Husbauer's early opener but a Gonzalo Higuain penalty pulled them level at the break before the Belgian striker took control in the second half. The win will have come as some relief to Napoli, who had slipped to a surprise home defeat to Chievo in the domestic league on Sunday. Meanwhile, defeat for the visitors brought an end to their recent run of three straight wins in all competitions. Mertens and Miguel Britos had both missed early chances for the hosts before Husbauer put the Czech side in front, firing home from the edge of the box after a corner was only half-cleared. Napoli were level inside 10 minutes after Sparta defender Costa Nhamoinesu gave away a penalty for handball in the box. Marek Hamsik's initial effort rifled back off the bar and a follow-up shot from Jose Callejon was blocked by the arm of Nhamoinesu, allowing Higuain to step up and score from the spot. Callejon also hit the woodwork before half-time but Sparta briefly looked better at the start of the second half, with another Husbauer effort blocked in the box. But the home side stepped up after the break and Mertens grabbed his opener in the 51st minute when Higuain drove the ball into the box and the Belgian converted from close range. Hamsik and Walter Gargano both brought saves out of David Bicik while Mertens and Gokhan Inler missed fine chances as Napoli pressed for a third. It finally arrived in the 81st minute when Mertens scored a fine individual goal, easing past two Sparta defenders before firing past Bicik from just inside the box.
Football EUROPA LEAGUE