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Rafa says Napoli "ready" for Athletic Bilbao Champions League challenge

Napoli have arguably been handed the toughest draw of the Champions League Playoff round by being paired with Athletic Bilbao, but the club's manager is confident that his side can rise to the occasion.

David Ramos

If Napoli didn't have bad luck, they'd have no luck at all.

A year ago, they were given a brutal group draw in the Champions League, thrown in with Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, and Olympique Marseilles, almost inarguably the "group of death" for last year's Champions League. They managed to get themselves 12 points in the group anyways... which proved to be insufficient, as they fell to the Europa League on tiebreakers. Despite having more points than any other eliminated team and more than several group winners and any second place side in other groups.

Now today, Napoli were drawn against their Playoff round opponent to see if they'll even get in to the Group Stage... and they were drawn against Athletic Bilbao, the toughest and best opposition in the pool to be drawn against the seeded teams.

No manner of luck at all...

For his part, manager Rafa Benitez declared his side ready to meet the challenge:

Athletic is strong, but we are ready for the challenge. [...] They happened to us the most difficult draw. They're a team that plays good football and the Stadio San Mames gives them a big boost. It's going to be a good game, a very intense challenge. Napoli, however, is prepared and determined to reach our goal.

-source: La Gazetta dello Sport

Napoli certainly have been doing their best to prepare, scheduling friendlies against Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. That gives them playing time against sides even better than Bilbao, albeit not in the pressure-packed environment of being one step away from the Champions League Group Stage. Still, though, that preparation will come to help a lot once the tie arrives, and hopefully by August 19th, Napoli will be ready to step on to the pitch at the San Paolo ready to knock Bilbao's socks off.

It would have been nice to get an easy draw, but things are never easy for Napoli. Time to show what this team is capable of.