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Preview: Napoli v Athletic

Rafael Benítez is predicting a game that will keep the fans "engrossed" as his SSC Napoli side, drawn from all over the world, host Basque outfit Athletic Club.

Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde
Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde ©AFP/Getty Images

Napoli boss Rafael Benítez describes Athletic as a "complete team"
Athletic have not made the group stage for 16 years; Napoli were in it last term
Blerim Dzemaili, Camilo Zúñiga and Henrique not in the Napoli squad
Gonzalo Higuaín not 100% fit but will start, Benítez confirms
Napoli had 12 players on duty at the FIFA World Cup; Athletic had none

Possible lineups
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Jorginho, Inler; Callejón, Hamšík, Insigne; Higuaín.
• Out: Camilo Zúñiga (ankle), Henrique (unfit), Blerim Dzemaili (unfit)

Athletic: Iraizoz; Iraola, Gupergi, Laporte, Balenziaga; Rico, Iturraspe; Susaeta, Beñat, Muniain; Aduriz.
• Out: none

Rafael Benítez, Napoli coach
Athletic Club are a complete team − they can do everything on the pitch. They have the advantage of having played together for many years. I envisage a very interesting, tactical match that will keep the supporters engrossed. It will be intense. The play-offs are very important. Napoli have a promising future, but it will be better if we qualify. If we don't succeed it is not the be all and end all because this can happen to a club.

I'm expecting a lot of help from our fans, but I'd like them to support all the players, even if they make a mistake. It is important to score and to defend well because we must remember that these ties are longer than 90 minutes – we have to go to Bilbao in a week.

Higuaín is not yet 100% post-World Cup
Higuaín is not yet 100% post-World Cup©Getty Images

Gonzalo Higuaín isn't at top fitness, that's normal after the World Cup, but he is so strong he can decide a match by himself. Dzemaili, Zúñiga and Henrique are not in the squad because they only arrived back following the World Cup a few days ago and I have other players who are in better shape at the moment. 

Ernesto Valverde, Athletic coach
We know only too well that Napoli can count on players like Callejón, Insigne, Mertens, Higuaín – players who are all so dangerous and fast! But I'm not worried about that; I'm worried that they have so many dangerous combinations, not individuals.

It is probably an advantage that our squad has all done pre-season together, but I wouldn't have minded having ten or 12 players at the World Cup like Napoli had. Especially if you have players like Gonzalo Higuaín, who came back from the World Cup without training and against PSG [in a friendly] scores within five minutes of being on the pitch.

I do not know if there is a favourite, but if there is it is probably Napoli – they played in the UEFA Champions League last season; we haven't been in it for 16 years. That wait means we have a big responsibility, and so many in Spain are confident of us. It's a big chance, created last season, and now we have to take it. An away goal would be very important for us and we will go for it without forgetting that the second leg is to come.

Weekend results
Napoli: did not play
Athletic: did not play

Form guide (all competitions – this season only)
Napoli: no competitive games
Athletic: no competitive games

Match facts
• Of the last 14 meetings between Italian and Spanish sides in UEFA club competition, only one has been won by a Serie A side – who and when? Find out in our extensive match background.