Rudi Garcia demands fast start from Napoli in Champions League opener at Braga

By Sports Desk September 19, 2023

Napoli head coach Rudi Garcia knows his side cannot afford a slow start if they are to target Champions League success this season.

The Partenopei topped their Champions League group ahead of Liverpool and progressed to the quarter-finals last season, where they were beaten by AC Milan.

Garcia’s side, though, head into their opening European tie away to Portuguese outfit Braga on Wednesday night sitting fifth in the table after a draw at newly promoted Genoa left them with seven points from four games.

“There is something wrong in the league (Serie A) because we are only fifth, but it is the start of the season,” Garcia told a press conference.

“The logical thing would be to say that we need to be more consistent, but we can say that the championship is the championship – and the Champions League is another competition.

“There are only six matches in the group (stage) and so every match counts much more than those of the 38-round championship (Serie A).

“We are here to win and we arrive with determination and confidence.”

Napoli arrived in Portugal much later than planned on Tuesday evening following a significantly delayed departure because of technical problems with their aircraft.

But Garcia will not look for any excuses if his side do not produce the required performance at the Estadio Municipal.

“Braga have quality players, but we want to start this Champions League group off well,” he said.

“We have to be consistent from the first minute and have to put everything on the pitch to win the three points.”

Centre-back Amir Rrahmani has been included in Napoli’s travelling squad after missing Saturday’s Serie A game with a muscle problem picked up while on international duty with Kosovo.

Uruguay defender Mathias Olivera is expected to start after coming off the bench against Genoa while recent signing Bernardo Natan could make his debut, with the Brazilian, fit again following a knee issue, an unused substitute at the weekend.

Braga have returned to the Champions League group stages for the first time in 11 years after coming through two qualifying rounds – and will also face Spanish giants Real Madrid as well as tournament debutants Union Berlin in Group C.

After suffering a 3-1 loss at Farense in the Portuguese Liga, Braga coach Artur Jorge is expecting a response against the Italian champions.

“Our opponent has a lot of individual and collective quality. The widespread opinion is that it will be more difficult for Braga, but we have the will to counter that,” he said.

“We have three very strong teams (in the group) and we will be put to the test with maximum demands.

“But even against a very strong Napoli, but we will have a rigorous and committed approach and I believe we have a chance to compete until the end.”

Jorge told a press conference: “We want to enjoy the match, but highlighting that we are not going to play just for the sake of playing.

“Regardless of the competition, the ambition to win is fundamental – we cannot get tired of winning.

“It should not be as a response to anything, this is the ambition that the players have to express – it is our desire for the mission to be accomplished.”

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