Athletic Club 1-UD Almería 0 Athletic Club beat UD Almería 1-0, as a result of…
Athletic Club 1-UD Almería 0
Athletic Club beat UD Almería 1-0, as a result of the goal scored by Fernando Llorente in the 10th minute of play that turned out to be enough to achieve the three points; all of this in a match in which our team ended up with nine players after both Koikili and Castillo were sent off. The spectators in the stands at San Mamés were visibly irritated by the referee’s performance, but more importantly they urged the team on that helped them to stay afloat during the worst moments.
Anyway, first of all we can talk about the pride of belonging that influenced not only the final victory, but also the way it was achieved, besides the value of these three points in the third consecutive League triumph at home, the fourth in a row if we include the Copa win against Alcorcón and the return of the situation of having no goals scored against us. An encounter that clearly demonstrated some of the virtues that comes with being a player or supporter of this team, capable of making certain feelings reserved for the big matches come to the surface in a game we could say was just a ‘normal’ one.
Athletic won the encounter in the first half because of their game and in the second for their class and also because they knew how to read the game perfectly above all the imponderable thoughts of a very diverse nature and origin. The contest started to take shape very quickly. Juanma Ortiz pushed Gurpegi and the referee called for a penalty. San José kicked it, but Diego Alves kept on doing justice to his reputation of being a skilled penalty-stopper, and did so by making the most of his intuition and by stepping forward. A good clearance, but the kick had to be repeated. The maximum penalty for Athletic only lasted a few seconds, since our team kept up the pressure at an infernal pace and the rapid recuperation of ball possession gave us the opportunity to besiege the rival goalkeeper. In one of these occasions, the centre by Igor Martínez, Toquero’s substitute, was finished off by Llorente with the right and Alves’s stretch was not enough to prevent the only goal of this windy evening match being scored, the striker’s eighth in the League.
Athletic did not slacken the pace. In fact during the entire first half they were the sole owners of the function, with triangular moves and deep passes, they attacked down the right and the left and created goalscoring opportunities so as not to leave anything to chance in getting the three points. Muniain was the star of a good gallop alongside Llorente, however, the latter missed, just as the shot at goal taken by Susaeta in the 19th did when it sailed over the crossbar.
Koikili was shown an innocent card before the 30-minute mark that in the long run was not such a big deal. The player from Otxandio was shown the yellow card after perfectly clearing a ball, but without coming into contact with the rival. He went on with the job, pondering the reasons for his booking, and even took a shot at goal that went over the crossbar in the 28th, while Gurpegi, upon being shown a card that is hard to appeal against, was the first player that won’t play in our next appointment at Bernabéu. Llorente’s header in the 40th just missed and the match turned into a Red-White monologue, but some imponderable and uncontrollable ones were missing, because Koikili, you reap what you sow, got his second card in the last minute of the first half, this time much clearer than the first, after hanging on to Ulloa’s jersey, though not a red one it did not prevent him from being sent off.
Leading on the scoreboard, but a new problem on the drawing board. Castillo stepped in for Igor Martínez, Muniain moved more towards the centre next to Llorente (tremendous effort by both) in the 4-3-2 ad hoc format designed by Caparrós and, on their behalf, Almeria gave a warning with a long-distance shot at goal, one of the two goalscoring occasions they had throughout the entire match. Nevertheless, Athletic replied soon and good, with courage and the ability to generate danger, also leaving behind the label of a team that crumbles when they are inferior in numbers.
In fact, the goalscoring opportunities belonged to the Red-Whites, like that of Muniain in the 51st minute, repelled by Alves. Then they got on Llorente’s back in what was seemingly a flagrant penalty and here we can make a parenthesis with a Biblical touch: ‘Happy are those who believe that Llorente, despite the World Cup, will receive penalties until the ball in the whistle wears out, because they are going to have to sit down and wait”. Actually the prevailing sensation is that he is given more fouls by the ref than those made against him. Amidst the lamentation of the players and the whistle concert on behalf of the public Iraola had a go from outside the area that proved to be fruitless against Diego Alves. Athletic were revving up and the crowd had already lowered the handbrake. As the minutes went on all the linesmen became aware of the epic hue that the dispute was taking.
UD Almería had their second attempt at goal with Goitom who hammered the ball, but Iraizoz’s response was not to let the ball get past him. What’s more, their third attempt came when Jakobsen’s shot at goal ended up finding the net, but his header was annulled for being offside.
Time went by with a relatively calm Athletic despite the numerical inferiority, with undisguised anger in the stands and disparate criterion by the referee’s pitch side. While Javi Martínez jumped to avoid coming into contact with Vargas’s shin guards, fans were reminded of Amorebieta who was sent to the locker room in the match against FC Barcelona. Following a header that went too high by the midfielder, and now in the 68th minute Castillo was shown the red card for bringing Goitom down as theoretically he was the last defender and Goitom had a clear goalscoring opportunity in front. Purely coincidental, some hours later at Camp Nou a similar move had a different outcome. This is what coincidence is all about, the causality and the damage caused to people who watch so much TV.
Those who still kept their cool, even dared to make jokes about how costly it is to play two games in a row on the left wing, or were looking for reasons as to why there were four left wingers in the squad. Then out of the blue Lillo quickly sent three of his regular players Piatti, Corona and Crusat onto the pitch, to the detriment of Marcelo Silva, Goitom and Vargas. Ugh … but things went from bad to worse for them with still a quarter of an hour of the match to go.
Gurpegi became the provisional left-winger and in one of those moves the ball struck his body and also his hand on the rebound. If it had been intentional, the referee would have had the perfect opportunity to put the icing on the cake and leave us with only eight players that would have been great for the cardiologists or scriptwriters of stories with an epic ending. Another thing, immediately after the foul shot, some people may have even said that the ones who were most affected by the refereeing was Almería and not turn a hair.
Now in the 73rd minute Gabilondo replaced Susaeta and positioned himself on the left wing. The previous 4-3-2 format was changed to simply a 4-4 one, with a role-model performance from the first player to the very last and the curious thing was that our team did not have too much trouble. A perfect symbiosis between the public and the Red-White jersey bearers did the rest. In fact Almería’s coach, Juan Manuel Lillo, confirmed in the pressroom that his team played to the beat set by the pressure of our team’s supporters and was not wrong. The order and pride of the locals that left the visiting team dry and the importance of keeping the points at home did the rest.
With only five minutes left to go Iker Muniain earned himself a unanimous round of applause from the stands upon leaving the pitch as David Lopéz was sent in to take his place and soon afterwards he was able to share this sensation with his team-mates pitch side. Players and fans alike were mutually grateful to have come out of this one victorious despite the adversity and having to pay the price, more or less an unfair one, which is of having three players being unable to play at the Santiago Bernabéu. A match to be refereed by a man who besides having the worst statistics as far as our team is concerned, and being the next in line, our President has asked for absolute equality for everyone (his words can be heard on this very page). Perhaps it would have been easier to shield oneself behind their good game and class, to talk about victory and let things go, but besides the score among our fans there is a perception that would not be a bad idea to discuss. And meanwhile, there must also be time to enjoy these three points, sweeter than usual, because they have been difficult to get.
Athletic Club’s line-up: Iraizoz; Iraola, San José, Ustaritz, Koikili; Susaeta, Gurpegi, Javi Martinez, Muniain; Igor Martinez and Llorente. On the bench: Raul, David Lopez, Gabilondo, Orbaiz, Iñigo Pérez, Ion Velez and Castillo. Iturraspe, Balenziaga, Toquero and De Marcos were not included in the call up.
The UD Almería line up: Diego Alves; Michel, Marcelo Silva, Jacobsen; Mo, Bernardello, Vargas; J. Ortiz, Goitom and Ulloa. On the bench: Esteban, K. Uche, Crusat, Diego Valeri, P. Piatti, Corona and Santi.
Referee: Velasco Carballo, Linesmen: Alonso and Andrés.