Athletic Club defeated Valencia in San Mamés by three goals to two. The rojiblanco goals…
Athletic Club defeated Valencia in San Mamés by three goals to two. The rojiblanco goals have been the work of Gabilondo, Javi Martinez and Llorente; while Valencia’s were scored by Villa and Morientes.
Those on hand in San Mamés had the opportunity of witnessing an outstanding soccer match. Athletic Club and Valencia gave their very best on the field and the impression the match gave until the end was that anyone could pull it off and that’s exactly what happened. In the end, our team took the three golden points to finish the first leg of the season in ninth place with 26 points, four more than last season. And, without a break, come the Copa quarterfinals on Thursday in San Mamés and, on Sunday, the first matchday of the second leg in Almeria; in which neither Aitor Ocio nor Javi Martinez will be present, as they could surely use a rest.
Perhaps a draw might have been a more just result, seeing the vibrant match offered by both teams; a match in which opportunities to change the marker were present at both goals at decisive moments of the match. On the other hand, the final result cannot be credited at all to the penalty called on Fernandes in the minute 90 for tugging Javi Martinez but can be attributed to the tenacity and confidence shown by our team in turning the score around after being down twice; all this, against a quality team such as Valencia, second, and hopefully not the last, of those biting the dust. There’s nothing better to finish the first leg of the Liga, even though the calendar allows no time to make assessments, nor for celebrations and much the less, fortunately, for self-complacency.
Valencia CF Coach, Unai Emery stated the night before, that one of the key factors was to hold back a supposed strong entrance by Athletic. That’s what happened in the first counterattack with no striker, but in the second minute of play his team was already ahead on the scoreboard thanks to a perfect pass to Mata and a fine shot on goal by Villa, who defined quite well before Iraizoz as the ball approached; making matters worse, as if it weren’t a complicated rival already.
Athletic preferred to look itself in the navel and continue as planned, play the wings and bottleneck the rival. Llorente, with the help of Renan, created danger in the minute 4 and in the eleven a shot on goal with the left by Ion Vélez barely missed wide. It was like Russian roulette before a team such as Valencia and their way of playing indicated that when it appeared they were far away, a sudden transition brings one back to reality. At the quarter hour another deep pass and Villa lobs the ball over the goalie, but this time it’s out. Two minutes later a half-serve by a returning David Lopez helped Gabilondo face January’s uphill with determination and feed his legend of remarkable goals against Valencia, this time after scoring the equalizer with a header.
The following quarter hour was not the same, with options for both teams, so much so that the exchange of blows ended up with our team getting its face smashed in. Llorente didn’t dare shoot in the minute 19; Iraizoz took out his glove after a free-kick by omnipresent and powerful Fernandes cleared the barrier; in the minute 27, Llorente’s header/shoulder goal was disallowed due to a doubtful offside and shortly after he broke away from Maduro and was able to shoot on goal, but it was blocked by Renan. However, a half hour later an inside ball for Villa, a breakaway and deadly pass so that Morientes could carry out his tradition of scoring against Athletic, as he had already done with the Zaragoza and Real Madrid jerseys.
Once again the uphill and again with renewed spirits on the part of fans that, like the team, are in good shape and are resembling, more and more, that which Athletic is expected to be. The match was blocked, but Athletic managed to play a fantastic final stretch. In addition, Valencia goalkeeper Renan was injured, and the debut by his substitute Guaita was probably not what he’d wish for, since his first intervention was to pick the ball out of the net after Javi Martinez headed in a good cross by David Lopez. It was the minute 44, but there would be even more before the break; an off-target header by Llorente and an excellent shot on goal from a distance by Villa that was off target.
Halftime, four goals and one of the most complete matches to have been seen recently in San Mamés. Both squads restarted play with no new features in their alignment, and it was Valencia that entered with more determination. In fact, in the minute 47, Joaquin’s shot hit the crossbar and Mata shot an involuntary pass by Ocio in his attempt to clear into the crowd, with everything in his favour. Once over that fright, the last by the visitors, Athletic regained their colour and shortly after Llorente’s goal was disallowed due to a dubious offside and Guaita deflected a deep shot by Javi Martinez to corner.
The managers, with historical perspective, current and with the Copa winding down in minutes, decided to make their first moves. While Caparrós brought in Toquero to substitute Ion Vélez to let the player rest, Emery introduced Michel to replace Villa. It was the minute 65.
As we’ve mentioned, from then and until the end, the only serious attempts were by Athletic Club, like a header that Llorente innocently shot into Guaita’s hands. Yet, Athletic read the match correctly and has also been able to embody their wish for some hint of short term rotation and it is in that context where it’s important to understand the yellows that carry sanction seen by Javi Martinez and Ocio.
Despite all of the above, the clash still had a lot to tell; but first, the last round of substitutions. Caparrós brought in Balenziaga to replace Gabilondo who was positioned ahead of Koikili and withdrew Orbaiz, who also needed a breather, to give way to another reappearing player, Yeste. Emery, on his part, took out Vicente and withdrew Joaquin, with Mata now in charge of playing the right wing. A quarter hour left in regulation time and many comings and goings. Yeste contributed more ball handling, while Valencia entrusted everything in the creation capacity of tireless Fernandes. No one was giving away either a ball or a meter of field, but the only danger was rojiblanco; concretely, in the minute 81 when Toquero barely missed a cross by Llorente and the ball was finished off by David Lopez hitting the right post.
The match was still destined for a stalemate, which was not bad for either team, in our case, because it would increase the distance from relegation spots and keep up the positive run. However, Athletic continued believing in itself until, in the last minute, in the duel between the colossal forwards, Fernandes tugged and tugged Javi Martinez’ arm, who despite it all was able to shoot on goal against Guaita. Exactly, the referee had interpreted what the rumour in the stands believed had been indicated ‘Penalty! Penalty!’ and Llorente transformed it, with no repetition, and he is moving close to a dozen goals in the Liga and the team into noble places on the table. A good pinnacle to the excellent football played by both teams and to the strengths that characterize ours. Those that paid their membership fees at the last minute in order to watch the match are surely not sorry.