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Sep 20, 2012

Atletico poised for Europa League defence

Europe League holders Atletico Madrid travel to Hapoel Tel Aviv on Thursday night without star striker Radamel Falcao, but with a determination to retain the trophy, according to Rojiblancos coach Diego Simeone.

The Argentine coach has left Falcao - plus other regulars Arda Turan, Gabi and Diego Godin - back in Spain, but said that squad players including Cata Diaz, Emre, Raul Garcia and Diego Costa were well capable of securing the three points for their side.

"We are not here to put on a show, we are here to win," Simeone said. "Everyone knows I do not like giving anything away and we want to be competitive in every competition we play in.

"It is a challenge for the squad - Cata is a player of the top level, Emre is the Turkish captain, Raul scored 12 goals for Osasuna last season, Costa 11 for Rayo."

Last season's runners up Athletic Bilbao also begin their campaign against Israeli opposition, with Hapoel Kiryat Shmona the opposition in Bilbao. Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa said he would give Xabier Castillo a season debut at left-back, and did not discount the idea of playing Fernando Llorente and Aritz Aduriz together up front.

"Aduriz lifts the offensive performance of the team, and furthermore converts chances," Bielsa said. "Llorente does that too. He also participates in the team's collective play and brings extra physicality."

In contrast to Athletic and Atletico's experience in the competition, La Liga's other representatives, Levante, are playing their first ever European campaign. As they prepared to host Swedish team Helsingborg on Thursday, Granotas coach Jose Ignacio Martinez said they would enjoy the game "without going crazy" - as the domestic league remained more important.

"We cannot allow ourselves any luxury which is not La Liga," Martinez said. "The focus is to be in the Primera Division next year. (But) it will be a party in the stadium and we will go out looking to win the game."

Martinez also said that new free signing Obafemi Martins was unlikely to feature.

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