After fifteen years away from competing with Europe’s footballing elite, Athletic Bilbao are closing on a return
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Athletic Bilbao came from behind to secure their place in the group stage of the Champions League with a 3-1 victory over Napoli.
After a 1-1 draw in the first leg, Napoli nosed in front when Marek Hamsik opened the scoring two minutes after half-time, firing in a low left-footed shot which found the net off the inside of the post.
But Athletic responded with three quickfire goals after the hour mark.
Aritz Arduiz bagged two of them, afforded plenty of time before firing in Markel Susaeta's 61st minute cross and then capitalising on a defensive mistake to put the ball beyond Rafael Cabral in the 69th minute.
Five minutes later, Ibai Gomez drilled in a third to see off the Italians.
Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde insists his team is happy with a 1-1 draw from the first leg of their Champions League play-offs against Napoli.
– Ernesto Valverde speaking to Marca
This was a good result for us.But it's not over yet.
Napoli have to score in the return leg and they have players that can do so.
They are a great team and the tie is still wide open.
Athletic Bilbao will have the upper hand back at San Mames after holding Napoli to a 1-1 Champions League play-off draw on Tuesday night.
The Primera Division and Serie A giants were pitted against each other in a battle to reach the group stages and Athletic took the initiative with Iker Muniain scoring four minutes before the break in Naples.
Napoli hit back after the interval as former Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain fired a leveller on 68 minutes but the Basque outfit will fancy their chances of winning the second leg and progressing to the next stage.
There were five goals in the first half of action in the Danish capital as Bayer Leverkusen claimed a 3-2 win at FC Copenhagen.
Stefan Kiessling (five) and Zanka (nine) exchanged goals before Daniel Amartey nudged FCK ahead in the 13th minute.
Bayer equalised through Karim Bellarabi on 31 minutes and, three minutes before the break, Son Heung-min grabbed what proved to be the winner for the Bundesliga giants.
Napoli coach Rafael Benitez has warned his side not to underestimate Athletic Bilbao when the two sides meet in Tuesday's Champions League play-off in Naples.
– Napoli boss Rafael Benitez speaking to MARCA
We will face a great team and the second leg will be in an incredible (San Mames) stadium. The (San Mames) crowd is like their 12th man.
Athletic's strongest weapon is the group, with players who have been together for many years and have the support of a city that never loses its passion.
I respect Athletic Bilbao a great deal, but I trust my Napoli.
San Mamés desde el cielo (7 de agosto) 4/4 http://t.co/6SHco7VkdZ
Spanish side Athletic Bilbao could look to sign Basque duo Nacho Monreal and Mikel Arteta, according to reports.
Athletic, who qualified for the Champions League last season, have plenty to spend on new players having lost many stars in recent years.
Both players appeared in the Emirates Cup at the weekend, but left-back Monreal is unlikely to earn a starting berth this season and Arteta's age may soon catch up with him
Basque side Eibar have bolstered their squad with the additions of Dani Nieto and Borja Ekiza ahead of their first ever Primera Division campaign.
Majorca-born winger Nieto, 23, joins Gaizka Garitano's side on a two-year deal after being released by Barcelona, having made 24 league appearances for their B side in the Segunda Division after joining from AD Alcorcon last summer.
Ezika, a 26-year-old defender who hails from Pamplona, is a free transfer acquisition from Athletic Bilbao, whom he joined in 2008 from Club Deportivo Basconia. He is expected to agree a one-year deal with last year's Segunda Division winners once he undergoes a medical.