Athletic Club and Racing reached a goalless draw at San Mamés, the fourth of the…
Athletic Club and Racing reached a goalless draw at San Mamés, the fourth of the season and the third without goals at our football field. Our team still has the possibility of qualifying for the Intertoto 08-09 Cup, in spite of this being a difficult task. Because Deportivo must lose against Villarreal in A Coruña and Athletic has to beat Sevilla at Sanchez Pizjuán next match. All of which will take place on the last match day round, but no matter what happens it’s a positive sign to have reached the end of the competition with some compensation in our game, even more so keeping in mind how much the team had suffered during the two previous League seasons. Although comparisons are odious, something must be said seeing that our Athletic is, to date, the second team in First Division to have the least number of goals scored against them, after the Champions Real Madrid. That’s how the thousands of fans in the stands saw it and firstly, they cheered on our team non-stop and later said farewell to the team with a warm ovation.
And in order to say good bye to the season an attractive match was played at San Mamés. On the one hand, the visitors will have to take a gamble on the last day to get their passport to the UEFA and on the other hand they were still fresh after their performance in the Copa. Welcoming the idea of our team dropping to Second Division of late led to, logically, an increased desire by our team to end the season at home with a victory. On the contrary, the Cantabrians knew that just one point would allow them to rely on their own results on the last match day and, in addition, this feeling was accentuated throughout most of the match upon knowing that their direct rivals were losing. That’s why the attempts made by the Red-Whites, better and more consistent during the first half, were all in vain up against a team who were somewhat more reserved than usual.
The start of the match was an even affair, with neither team clearly dominating, but little by little Athletic Club began to impose the dynamics of their game, high pace and balls directed to Llorente, who had his first good goal scoring opportunity in the 20th minute but his shot went over the crossbar. A soft Garmendia header was caught by Toño in the 22nd and at the same time a great individual run by Susaeta ended when the player kicked a line shot with his left which just missed. In the 29th minute Gurpegi couldn’t, just barely, make it in time to finish off a corner kick and a little later asked for a penalty to be awarded to Llorente, the first of the evening, seeing that the Red-Whites had called for another one previously when Garmendia was trying to take his shot at goal and asked for another in the second half when Oriol touched the ball with his hand. The Racing players called for a penalty also in the 78th minute after a push in the local goal area.
At the first opportunity, not only did the referee blow his whistle, but decided that Llorente had committed a foul as well. The match was hot, no surrender, tough in the best sense of the word, the referee chose to participate, but without a lot of sound judgment, and stirred up the fans in the stands and the people on both benches. He saw penalties or sometimes not, it is a question of appreciation. And talking about appreciation, more dangerous is the stance the referees have adopted, or at least are adopting, concerning Fernando Llorente, ever since the forward from Irun has occupied a more important role in our line up it seems extremely difficult for a foul to be called in his favour. It seems, after all, that his strong physique exempts him from being pushed or grabbed and, on the other hand, those players that do this do it with dazzling clarity.
In the second half Athletic had even more difficulties and increasingly Racing seemed to be playing with three midfielders. Both teams, it’s only fair to admit it, did not deserve to score a goal, the pace had dropped and the complaints made to the referee combined with the substitutions made are the only things worth mentioning. After scratching the surface of the game, we were witness to a high shot by Muñoz in the 70th minute and a goal scoring opportunity by Jorge Lopez which sailed way over the crossbar.
Racing withdrew and held fort, and were only importuned by Susaeta when making his runs down the right wing, what’s more the pace of the match had dropped and the lack of fluidity in attack on behalf of Athletic only made things worse. Caparrós made three changes in the second half. First of all, Muñoz replaced Iraola, who was injured, in the 58th minute and the newcomer was sent to cover the pivot position forcing Gurpegi to cover the right wing. Prieto was due to be sent it, but he injured himself whilst he was warming up.
Aduriz was sent in for Garmendia in the 74th minute, but the Red-White team no longer had the necessary freshness to end the match with as much discipline as the rivals. Finally, Yeste stepped in for Javi Martinez with only five minutes left before the end of the match, which was time enough to be sent off.
On behalf of Racing, Tchité occupied Smolarek’s position in the 51st minute and suddenly the visiting team were able to apply the pressure up field. Their second substitution, with only twenty minutes left to the match was more reserved; Sergio Sanchez replaced Munitis with the aim of making the spider’s web which had been weaved in the centre even denser. The Red-Whites deserved to get the three points in the first half, but after having seen the second half a draw can only be considered as being fair.
Despite the goalless draw, the public applauded the trajectory of the team who has brought calmness to the season, and who could end up in eighth position in the best case scenario or eleventh in the worst. The seeds that give us hope have been sown and we are waiting for this to be confirmed, which is not a trivial affair keeping in mind where we have come from and the enormous difficulties that the team, with economic and also historical presence, has had and are having to stay in First Division.