Sergio Ramos once again rose to the occasion as the centre-back helped Real Madrid come from behind to win 3-1 at Napoli and secure progression to the Champions League quarter-finals with a 6-2 aggregate triumph.
The Spain international has come up with the goods on the big stage for Madrid time and time again, including in last season’s Champions League final, and he allayed Madrid’s fears with a hand in two goals after the break to turn things around following Dries Mertens’ well-taken first-half opener.
The match lived up to its billing in the opening 45 minutes, as Napoli took the game to the reigning European champions and caused them no end of problems from the start, before eventually halving Madrid’s two-goal aggregate lead just before the half-hour mark – Mertens scoring his 17th goal in his last 16 games across all competitions.
Both sides were then denied by the frame of the goal, as Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League goal drought was extended to six matches, while Mertens went close to scoring his second.
But Napoli were made to rue their plethora of spurned first-half chances, as Ramos swiftly restored Madrid’s two-goal advantage early in the second half and then saw a header deflected in by Mertens to effectively put the tie to bed.
That tunaround left the hosts completely deflated and Alvaro Morata made the scoreline more flattering in stoppage time.
Napoli lived up to Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane’s expectations with a purposeful start and carved Madrid open early on, but Marek Hamsik was a whisker away from meeting Lorenzo Insigne’s cut-back 12 yards out.
Hamsik did manage to get a shot away a few moments later, though his attempt from the edge of the box went agonisingly wide of the right-hand post.
The hosts’ dominance showed no sign of letting up and they eventually broke the deadlock 24 minutes in.
Madrid were dissected by a series of passes and Hamsik fed Mertens into the left side of the box, with the Belgian then coolly slotting into the bottom-right corner.
Ronaldo provided a reminder of his presence shortly after, but his effort came back off the right-hand post after he breezed into the area and skipped past Pepe Reina.
Napoli too were kept out by the post just before the interval – Mertens the one denied after the ball broke kindly for him in the area.
Madrid began the second half with much greater control and intent, and they hauled themselves level on the night within five minutes of the restart – Ramos meeting Toni Kroos’ left-wing corner with a glancing header that found the bottom-right corner.
And he was decisive again moments later.
Another Kroos corner – this time from the right – proved too inviting to pass up and Ramos sent a bullet header into the roof of the net via a deflection off Mertens.
Ramos’ efforts took the wind right out of Napoli’s sails and suddenly left them looking utterly devoid of craft in midfield.
Morata, sent on for Karim Benzema 13 minutes from time, added a third for good measure in stoppage time, smashing home a rebound after Reina failed to hold on to Ronaldo’s effort.