Athletic Club will take an away goal back to Spain after holding SSC Napoli to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off tie, Iker Muniain's opener cancelled out by Gonzalo Higuaín.
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Selected by Rafael Benítez just over a month after appearing in the FIFA World Cup final for Argentina, Higuaín showed he was re-energised back in club colours as he burst down the right and hooked in an early cross which Marek Hamšík headed over. Hamšík then dragged a shot wide before Lorenzo Insigne missed an even better opportunity, only just failing to reach Jorginho's lofted ball with only Gorka Iraizoz to beat.
Deafening whistles accompanied every Athletic attack and the shrills became increasingly frequent as the guests established a foothold in the game, going the closest yet when Aymeric Laporte flashed his near-post header just wide of the right-hand upright.
Athletic had achieved one objective in neutralising the impact of the fans, and after threatening to take the lead twice, they succeeded at the third time of asking. Óscar de Marcos was allowed to progress unchallenged deep into Napoli territory and he teed up Muniain for a well-placed shot into the bottom right-hand corner.
Athletic emerged for the second half galvanised by their lead, not afraid to attack with the tricky Muniain proving a constant thorn in Napoli's side. They did so while maintaining a strong defensive organisation, but that was disrupted by the introduction of Dries Mertens, who managed to bring a sparkle back to Napoli's play.
Soon after, they were on terms when Higuaín grabbed his ninth goal in 11 games against Athletic with a low shot into the far corner. José Callejón wasted an excellent chance to give Napoli the lead, blazing wide with only Iraizoz in his way as the home fans urged their team forwards. Although Mertens stung Iraizoz's palms, Napoli could not find a winner, with Athletic holding on for a draw.
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