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Napoli to face Athletic Bilbao in Champions League qualifying

Giuseppe Bellini

Last year, Napoli provided both thrills and heartbreak in the Champions League. It went down to the wire, with the partenopei nearly slipping in during the final ten minutes of the group stages. But, despite having more points than many clubs that progressed to the Round of 16 (Zenit, we're definitely giving you the side-eye), Napoli were eliminated.

Rafa Benítez, Aurelio De Laurentiis, the Napoli players and the fans would all love the side to make a deeper run in the tournament. But first, they've gotta qualify for the group stages. Stupid Roma, placing second and making Napoli have to go through such agony.

And of course, Napoli have what might be the toughest draw of all: facing Athletic Bilbao. The fourth-placed finishers in La Liga are certainly stronger than Besiktas, Standard Liege, and Copenhagen, and almost certainly Lille as well. Thanks, UEFA!

The team drawn first plays the first leg at home, which means Athletic visit the San Paolo on either August 19 or 20. Napoli will then visit Nuevo San Mamés the following week, on either the 26th or 27.

Thoughts? Should the partenopei be able to make it past Bilbao? Or are we about to be faced with early-season disappointment?