Athletic Club has been defeated by Sevilla 2-1 in the first leg of the Copa…
Athletic Club has been defeated by Sevilla 2-1 in the first leg of the Copa semi-finals. Llorente scored the 0-1 in the first period and in the second Duscher and Acosta, the latter in injury time, turned the marker around. In a month’s time the atmosphere lived today in the Sanchez Pizjuán will surely be surpassed in San Mamés, though it’s another thing to count on having similar refereeing.
The match has been conditioned by the rain, in fact, it was delayed a quarter hour, and at first it didn’t seem that the locals were in favour playing, at least if we consider that an hour before kickoff no effort was being made to remove the water from the playing field and bordering areas. As an example, it’s enough to say that Athletic Club players and technicians could not sit on the bench, flooded like a pool, and had to do so like in old times. In the end, a bitter aftertaste remains though one of the objectives has been fulfilled, to score away, and the defeat was minimized. Frustration more than for the result itself, for the way it took place, which caused a sensation of sadness among the squad and the hundreds of followers who have once again taught a lesson of support to the team. Fortunately, as the first week of March approaches the perception will be quite different and we’ll get a glimpse of reality: the final is right there.
Sevilla, once the intense rain stopped (right until the end of the match, by sheer chance) came in rather aggressively, but the condition of the playing field did not leave many choices for combinations however it did in quickly getting the ball away from the danger zones. And if it already had it, strategy went on to play a much more important role, although Iraizoz didn’t have more difficulties seeing the ball roam his area, a circumstance that has been more determining in the second half.
Both teams wanted deep balls, it was clear, like also in a skirmish of constant contact the referee was inclined without concealment to perceive many more lateral and frontal fouls near our goal area than in favour, being the absence of these, and not a specific action, what motivated Iraola to complain which got him a yellow. In the end, Athletic Club saw five yellows and Sevilla none.
With no occasions and with a crowd that was totally committed and into the game, as usual, the spectacle of the ball boys was growing in intensity. In the heat of a week full of mutual accusations between Preciado (Sporting) and Jiménez (Sevilla) for taking away ball boys and their performance, Sevilla continues in their perfectly organized line and are border-lining cloudy regulation, if they don’t exceed it; for example, when giving balls to serve when the clearing is still in the air heading to the sideline or even sending two balls onto the field simultaneously when there is free-kick to be taken. And someday all hell’s going to break loose, because if, for example, Iraizoz leaves his area to clear with his feet or head, it is not acceptable that even when being outside his goal area the rival already has another ball to serve kick. And if it is acceptable, it is not in the least similar to fair play.
What with one thing and another, we had to wait until the minute 24 to see the first occasion, at the boots of Ion Vélez when he noticed Palop outside his line, but his shot grazed the crossbar. Romaric headed in a corner shot a bit lower, to the bar concretely and Renato a bit higher from a free-kick. Each foul or corner looked for fuel from any angle of the field and in the final stretch of the first half Athletic has been much more effective. In fact, in the minute 40, Llorente controlled with his chest and shot strongly as the ball reached him, but Palop deflected to corner. He was less lucky in the corner shot, since Llorente got ahead of him with a header to score the hopeful 0-1. With no time for the local’s reaction, Yeste shot wide with his left.
In view of the second half, Acosta came in for Renato and played an interesting role for his team in the final stretch. Before that, Athletic came out well positioned and, as occurred in Gijon, it could have put the round on track when, in the minute 50, a wide-open Ion Vélez finished off a cross by David Lopez just wide of the post and he couldn’t beat Palop in the 59 after receiving a deep pass from Yeste, as the ball lacked angle.
Sevilla suffered, but it recovered markedly coming out of a forced corner on the said occasion. Luckily, Koikili crossed in front of Acosta, but it’s been a ‘get fat to die’, since in a later skirmish with an unfortunate bounce that lead the ball toward our goal and the later clearance from under the woods by Martinez, Duscher shot point-blank establishing the draw with a half hour to go; a very long time on any field and more so in a well-connected one like the Pizjuán. Seconds before the goal, Capel substituted Adriano and seconds later Toquero replaced Ion Vélez, who’s been complaining of lower back pain these last few days.
The goal returned us to the historical scenario of local avalanches. While in our rows the cards accumulated, in the rival blatantly looked for Kanouté, though we carry the ‘San Benito’ of being the only team in the whole globe that plays deep. To top things off, the turf was recovering its normal aspect, with less water but ready to admit jumps into the swimming pool, and Sevilla moved the ball more comfortably while Athletic failed in the transition, or it didn’t have it.
As Sevilla looked for Kanouté with delight, the rojiblanca back line marked the Malian forward and Acosta had the room to create the collapse of Athletic’s defence with rather dangerous penetrations. That regrouping also allowed Jesus Navas to be more perceptive still. In order to try and put a plug on his incursions, Balenziaga replaced Yeste in the minute 70.
Despite everything, the dangers that Sevilla created with domination of the ball were less frequent and less harmful, but not being able to slow down the game by means of moderately long possessions added an extra danger for Athletic’s defence. In fact Kanouté checked to see if there was water and Martinez put his leg in when the forward was already plunging to the ground. Kanouté himself stepped up to take the penalty, but it hit the post and its later rebound had already been invalidated.
Those that thought we were freed and that in order to reach the final a heart-gripping draw at nil in San Mamés would be enough, have run into the topic of ‘that’s football’ and until the referee blows the final whistle and Sevilla’s reality in this competition. Proof of the fact that while the referee doesn’t blow the whistle, not even the best controls of the match can guarantee the absence of risk; Iraola could have scored a header but was off target in the 86. There was risk however, in a level shot by David Lopez in the 88, but also in Palop’s hands and in the same minute a pass to the box by Duscher, which Kanouté controlled to run into Iraizoz in the play in which Amorebieta was injured.
With the issue dead, reality arrived. Sevilla repeated the play that was worth their win against Valencia, to fit the 0-1, draw and stage a comeback in injury time through Acosta and, like the 1-1, taking advantage of such an involuntary as unlucky bounce. Against Valencia the 2-1 was worth their pass into the semi-finals, but it is in our hands that it’s not worth anything in a month’s time; let San Mamés be a boiler, filled with fans and seasoned with cheers and spirit chants, and may our team confirm its candidacy to enter the great history of this club.
For now, Athletic has harvested a hopeful result that many approved of beforehand, but it’s been hard losing when a better marker has been at our reach. In March it surely won’t get away and meanwhile the thousands of fans who will travel to Valladolid will remind us that between Copa and Copa there are four Liga matches, one of which is precisely against Sevilla.