sport

Benitez confident despite draw

Napoli coach Rafael Benitez remains confident his side can see off Athletic Bilbao to reach the group stages of the Champions League.

The Italians were held to a 1-1 draw by the Primera Division outfit on Tuesday evening in Naples and have left themselves with plenty to do in Spain.

However, Benitez remains upbeat for the play-off second leg on August 27 at the San Mames stadium.

"Athletic will certainly go out there to win," Benitez said to Gazzetta dello Sport. "This means they will want to score and so do we.

"I have confidence but of course it will not be easy."

Spain international Iker Muniain gave the Basque outfit a 1-0 half-time lead before Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain equalised in the 68th minute.

Napoli had chances to win the game but were denied by good saves from Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz.

"We saw the game I expected to see," Benitez said. "Considering the way the game went, we can consider our reaction positive and we must begin again from that.

"We cannot forget we are two weeks behind Athletic Bilbao in pre-season training. However, we proved with five or six scoring opportunities that we can hurt them.

"Higuain is angry, like everyone, as we expected a tough game and to win it. This means that he will have plenty of motivation in the second leg."

Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde insists his team is happy with a 1-1 draw.

"This was a good result for us," Valverde said to Spanish sports newspaper Marca. "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."

Valverde, whose side finished fourth in La Liga last season, was pleased with his team's overall performance in Naples.

"We played very well for 70 minutes," he said. "We dominated and we had chances to go 2-0 up.

"Higuain created a goal out of nothing and, after they equalised, Napoli could have gone in front.

"This is nevertheless a good result for us but we will have to approach the return leg as though we started the game with a 0-0 score."