Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Napoli attacker Dries Mertens overtakes Diego Maradona as he closes on club's record goals tally

Belgian scores in Champions League win over RB Salzburg and is now just five behind Hamsik's 121 goals for Italian side

Dries Mertens helped Napoli earn their first Champions League victory on the road since December 2016 when they beat RB Salzburg 3-2 on Wednesday. EPA
Dries Mertens helped Napoli earn their first Champions League victory on the road since December 2016 when they beat RB Salzburg 3-2 on Wednesday. EPA

Belgium attacker Dries Mertens beat Diego Maradona's tally of 115 goals for Napoli to help his side beat RB Salzburg 3-2 in the Champions League.

Mertens, 32, who joined the Italian club in 2013, is now just five goals behind Marek Hamsik who has the all-time Napoli goals record of 121.

Napoli's first European victory on the road since December 2016 keeps top of Group E, a point above holders Liverpool who beat bottom side Genk 4-1, with Salzburg in third place on three.

"It's a fantastic evening for us, but we still have to beat Salzburg again in order to qualify," manager Carlo Ancelotti said on Wednesday.

"It's a great night for him [Mertens]. Napoli are back to winning a Champions League away fixture after three years and we hope to keep that going now."

Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch named Mali teenager Sekou Keita on the bench despite the forward scoring the equaliser at Sturm Graz on Saturday to maintain their unbeaten start to the Austrian league season.

The home side had an early goal ruled out by VAR as teenage striker Erling Haaland was judged to be offside after 10 minutes.

Mertens equalled Maradona's tally, who reached the number in 188 appearances in the space of seven seasons between 1984-1991 at the San Paolo Stadium, on 17 minutes. He blasted his effort to the top corner after a deft assist from Jose Callejon.

Norway forward Haaland, scored his 19th goal in 13 appearances this season with five minutes of the first half to play.

South Korea striker Hwang Hee-chan was brought down in the Napoli box by right-back Kevin Malcuit and 19-year-old Haaland converted from the spot.

Mertens went one better than Maradona with 25 minutes to play after right-back Malcuit made up for his earlier defensive error with a tidy cross for the Belgian.

The visitors then levelled as Haaland headed in from a Zlatko Junuzovic inswinging cross after 73 minutes to become the first player to score six goals in his first three Champions League appearances.

But without Salzburg touching the ball from the restart substitute Lorenzo Insigne smashed home the winner from Mertens' cross on the half-volley to keep them ahead of Liverpool.

The two sides meet again on November 5 in southern Italy and a victory will move Napoli a step closer to a first knockout appearance in the competition since 2017, leaving Salzburg to fight with Genk for a spot in the Europa League.

Updated: October 24, 2019 09:12 AM

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