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Italian Football Needs Napoli in the Champions League

Athletic Bilbao's Iker Muniain celebrates after scoring during the Champions League preliminary round soccer match between Napoli and Athletic Bilbao, in Naples, Italy, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Salvatore Laporta)
Salvatore Laporta/Associated Press
Peter GalindoFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2014

Napoli's 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of their Champions League playoff on Tuesday was a disappointing result. Now the Partenopei face elimination as they head into the San Mames on Wednesday to qualify for Europe's premier competition.

Forward Gonzalo Higuain was visibly unhappy post-match and told Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia) that it's Champions League or bust for Napoli.

The truth is I don’t feel like talking right now. I want to rest and focus on the next game.

Napoli have to play in the Champions League and we’ll have to prepare well for the next match.

We have to go there to win and Napoli have to do it, as we have the team to achieve this.

Higuain has a point, but not only does Napoli need the Champions League, Italian football in general must have all three clubs in the competition.

Galatasaray eliminated Juventus from the Champions League group stage in surpising fashion.
Galatasaray eliminated Juventus from the Champions League group stage in surpising fashion.Uncredited/Associated Press

Italian teams have the second-highest amount of European Cups, per UEFA.com. Spain is the only country above them with 13 wins compared to Italy's 12. However, Spanish sides have enjoyed success in the present and Serie A clubs have gone dry since Inter's triumph in 2009/10.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are world superpowers. They both rank in the top 10 of the most valuable sports franchises, according to Forbes. Juventus, Roma and Napoli, who are representing Italy in this year's Champions League, pale in comparison to their Spanish counterparts.

Serie A was once the best league in the world. However, since Calciopoli, the Italian top flight has slowly declined into a pool of debt, old stadiums and weaker squads.

Juventus and Roma have rebuilt and are now established as two of the best in Serie A. Both sides are the clear favourites to win the Scudetto.

Juve struggled in the Champions League last season. They were eliminated in the group stage, then fell to Benfica due to a poor display from the Bianconeri in the semifinal of the Europa League. Even more embarrassing, Juventus Stadium hosted the final in their home venue.

Roma managed to qualify for this season's Champions League after missing the previous three seasons, but given their low seeding, progressing from their group could be a tough task.

Napoli was eliminated from the Champions League by the slimmest of margins last season.
Napoli was eliminated from the Champions League by the slimmest of margins last season.Salvatore Laporta/Associated Press

Napoli were very unlucky to not have qualified for the round of 16 last year. The Neapolitans became the first team in history to accumulate 12 points, and still get knocked out in the group stage, per UEFA.com.

The Azzurri's 1-1 draw against Athletic raised a lot of concerns. Firstly, Lorenzo Insigne's poor finishing and decision making is a serious detriment to his team. When Dries Mertens was substituted into the match, Napoli were a lot more dangerous in attack and ended up scoring.

Gonzalo Higuain had 44 touches and three shots, per WhoScored.com, but had a brilliant chance to score earlier in the game. In fact, the goal he scored was much more difficult to execute than his previous opportunity.

Jonathan De Guzman should add some more quality in midfield for Napoli.
Jonathan De Guzman should add some more quality in midfield for Napoli.Salvatore Laporta/Associated Press

The midfield was overrun by Athletic until the second half. Napoli received a boost to that position with the addition of Jonathan De Guzman, per the BBC. That signing should improve the service to the likes of Higuain, Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik.

However, like Juventus last season in European competition, Napoli is in trouble. The away goal that Athletic scored in the first leg was a blow to the Italian side's hope of progressing.

The Partenopei must play with a positive approach and take risks, something Juve didn't execute last year. Players also have to finish their clear cut chances. Napoli had 12 attempts with four on target, per UEFA.com, and each one should have been converted. 

If neither of those tasks are undertaken, Napoli will be playing in the Europa League for a third consecutive year.

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