MADRID, Aug. 18 (Xinhua) -- Athletic Club Bilbao face what could turn out to be their most important game of the season when they play Italian side Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League preliminary round in Italy on Tuesday.
The draw pits the sides who finished fourth in Spain and Italy last season in an evenly balanced tie with the prize of a place in the lucrative group phase of the competition at stake.
Athletic just missed out on a place among the top seeds for the draw and as a result have to play the Italians, who themselves can't have been pleased to have seen Athletic's name come out of the hat.
The last time Athletic qualified for the Champions League was in 1998, when coach Ernesto Valverde was still a player, and a return to the biggest stage in Europe would be a huge boost, especially with their new San Mames Stadium with a capacity of just over 53,000 due to be completed for the return leg.
The Basques lost just one game in front of their fans last season and know that if they can get a good result in Italy, the atmosphere in front of their supporters will be a massive boost for the return leg... but first there is the question of surviving in Napoli's hostile San Paolo Stadium.
"We are playing a rival that is experienced in this competition, but we know what we can do. We have played against important rivals and we have no fear. We don't know how to play for a draw and we will go for the win," said Athletic Club forward, Iker Muniain in Basque newspaper Deia.
"We have been waiting a long time for this game and we have spent all pre-season working for it," added Muniain.
Napoli should know all about Athletic, given that they are coached by former Valencia, Liverpool and Chelsea boss, Rafael Benitez and count on former Real Madrid duo, Gonzalo Higuain (who has a good scoring record against Athletic) and Javier Callejon, in their ranks.
Higuain may be short of match fitness after the World Cup finals, which is a disadvantage given that Athletic had no players in Brazil and their first choice 11 has looked effective in pre-season, with striker Aritz Aduriz and Muniain both in form, while Benat Etxebarria's performances suggest he can replace the departed Ander Herrera.
"We know we have to be careful in midfield, but if we have to carry the weight of the game, that's no problem," said Muniain, who admitted having the return leg in Bilbao is a huge advantage.
"If we come out of the first leg intact, then it will be decided at home, but we can't be overconfident," he commented.