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 Posted by Miguel Delaney
Aug 28, 2014

Athletic, Porto and Shakhtar in three-horse race for Group H

Athletic Bilbao secured their Champions League group-stage place with a win over Napoli at the raucous New San Mames stadium.

The Champions League draw has been finalised. Here's a preview for Group H:

Predicted finish

1. Athletic Bilbao
2. Porto
3. Shakhtar Donetsk
4. BATE Borisov

Athletic Bilbao (Soccer Power Index (SPI) chance to advance: 60.8 percent)

The only group in which the top seed will not finish first? Athletic have already upset some expectations by driving past Rafa Benitez's Napoli, a victory that was fully deserved. It further emphasised that this is a hugely impressive core of players, particularly with the way they have continued to push on despite the departures in recent years of figures like Marcelo Bielsa, Fernando Llorente and now Ander Herrera. It is a side set to make more waves, just as Aritz Aduriz did with his goals against the Italians. Athletic had poor luck given the difficulty of that playoff. It has been reversed here.

Porto (SPI: 50.9 percent)

A rare awful year last season, given the overall productive structure of the club, but they have responded with a statement summer. They have also so far kept Jackson Martinez. That should keep them in this competition past the group stage, but keeping pace with Athletic will be a different and more difficult challenge altogether.

Shakhtar Donetsk (SPI: 63.5 percent)

A club from a country with far greater concerns right now, not least after the weekend's news that their stadium suffered bomb damage. They weren't set to play there in this season's Ukrainian league anyway, already removing one advantage from a club that had recently been so proactive. It almost seems trivial to discuss much of this given the difficulties there right now, but the reality is it should cause them trouble in getting through.

BATE Borisov (SPI: 24.7 percent)

Caused a shock in the competition two years ago, as one of only two teams to beat eventual champions Bayern Munich. Something resembling a repeat is not unlikely, especially given the manner they forged through qualification and the relative ease of their group compared to those with greater heavyweights. They should still do little more than make a dent on the table, however.

Miguel Delaney

Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.

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