Napoli and Real Sociedad are into the knockout phase of the Europa League after a 1-1 draw at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Thursday ensured that they finished first and second in Group F. Piotr Zielinski opened the scoring for the Italians on 34 minutes and Willian Jose left it late to grab the equalizer for the Basque outfit as AZ Alkmaar went down 2-1 to Rijeka in Croatia in Group F's other game.
Third in Serie A and six points behind AC Milan in first, the Partenopei have a realistic alternative piece of silverware in the Europa League. Meanwhile, Sociedad are just a point off of top spot in La Liga -- even if Atletico Madrid have two games in hand -- and will continue their European adventure alongside their unexpected title assault.
Here are some takeaways from the clash in Italy.
Both sides came into the game knowing that a win would see them through, yet Napoli were largely dominated by Sociedad.
Zielinksi's first half strike was one of the hosts' two shots on target over the 90 minutes, while the visitors created multiple opportunities and enjoyed greater possession Napoli had the game dictated to them at times, yet they struck when it mattered most and did not give up their grip until very late.
Sociedad will be wondering how they managed to only draw after creating twice as many shots -- on and off target -- as the home side in Naples. On top of the shots, Imanol Alguacil's men were dominant on the ball and controlled proceedings in Napoli's backyard.
Their largely wayward finishing perhaps betrays the fact that they already have an eye on potential Champions League qualification -- at least -- through the league. However, Jose's late strike keeps the Txuri-Urdinak in continental competition for now.
A stronger knockout stage
Regardless of some lethargy at times in the group stage, the Europa League is richer for having both Napoli and Sociedad in the latter stages. A quick look around the other groups shows the quality on display this season and the knockout rounds promise some exciting matchups in 2021.
Depending how each side fares between now and the resumption of Europa League action, the competition might be seen as an important piece of potential silverware by then.
Perhaps it would have only been one of Napoli or Sociedad advancing if AZ had not recently parted ways with coach Arne Slot. The Dutch side were enjoying life under the 42-year-old before the shock split, and, had that not happened, AZ may well have done better against Rijeka and advanced at the expense of Sociedad.
The Eredivisie outfit were looking like they would make it until the death when Ivan Tomecak struck to send them home empty handed.