Carlo Ancelotti conceded it was a bitter pill to swallow as Napoli came so close before being denied a place in the Champions League knock-out rounds with a dramatic 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield on Tuesday.
Former Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker’s superb late save on Arkadiusz Milik ensured Liverpool advanced to the last 16 thanks to Mohamed Salah’s first-half goal.
The Italians had only needed a point to advance from Group C to the last 16 after missing out last season under Ancelotti’s predecessor Maurizio Sarri.
“We did everything in our power to get through,” said Ancelotti, who replaced Sarri with the aim of challenging in the top European competition and in Serie A this season.
“We are bitter, but we also know that we have exceeded our expectations and we challenged until the last minute in a very strong group.”
Napoli finished third behind Liverpool with French champions Paris Saint-Germain winning the group.
Ancelotti had said that his side would be “idiots” not to reach the knock-out rounds.
“The cake has been made –- now we need to add a little cherry,” the 59-year-old three-time Champions League winning coach warned his players beforehand.
In the end, Napoli finished level on points with Liverpool but were edged out on the third tie breaker, goals scored. That meant every point and goal in the group proved to be decisive.
Napoli had beaten Liverpool 1-0 at home in October thanks to Lorenzo Insigne’s late winner. Since Liverpool won by the same score on Tuesday, that eliminated the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Napoli paid for a goalless draw at Red Star Belgrade and a 2-2 draw in France, where Angel Di Maria scored a late equaliser for PSG.
Red Star also came away with a goal in a 3-1 loss at Napoli’s San Paulo Stadium.
“I have no regrets about specific matches, I say that we lacked luck,” insisted Ancelotti.
“The boys are now disappointed, but this rage must pour into the Europa League and must become positive energy, we will focus on this new adventure, convinced that we can have our say.”
Napoli won the old UEFA Cup in 1989 for their only European title.