Athletic Club 3 Levante 2Athletic Club beat Levante UD by 3-2. Toquero scored the first…
Athletic Club 3 Levante 2
Athletic Club beat Levante UD by 3-2. Toquero scored the first goal, in the 30th minute and David López in the second half with a penalty, and later Llorente scored the third. The visiting team scored by way of Stuani and Nano in the last furlong of the match. Hard work and a deserving triumph that puts our team back in fifth place with a two point lead over Sevilla and Atlético de Madrid and six over Espanyol, the latter having played one match less, and with only three match days left to go until the end of the championship.
What seemed to be bleak last Monday was somewhat brighter after Saturday’s game, though in this neck of the woods, in this sport and in this team, an abrupt change and without warning is customary, which is why it’s not a good idea to start shouting about it, nor make friends with Mr Pessimist. Yes it’s true that it was hard work, and the final score of our two closest rivals allows us to once more laugh at the theory (about playing at home against rivals who are presumably weaker in accordance with the standings or who are not overly motivated despite being in second spot) and furthermore, what is still at stake for many teams, lets us evaluate this triumph in the right measure. The objective, after last Monday’s disappointment, is still that of qualifying for the European championships, the higher in the league ladder the better, and the team goes forward, despite everything.
Just like at the Chemists’ the match had everything, a hampered start, a good start to the second half and an ending full of suffering, but it did come with a reward in the end. All of which occurred against a rival that a) did not come to Bilbao for a picnic, b) was the sensation of the second half of the season and c) were not, are not, safe still from the relegation spots. Besides they had prepared for the encounter with people of great importance and did not complicate things when looking for Caicedo. During the first minutes of the match the formula worked perfectly, despite Muniain’s attempt at a chip shot and David López’s failed shot at goal from outside the area.
As the minutes ticked by the Red-Whites became the sole owners of the ball, but the difficulties persisted, as the pressure applied by the Maroons forced Orbaiz to retreat close the centre in order to get the ball into play and the Valencians were able to recuperate quite a few second balls. Nevertheless, southern wind and all, the impreciseness in the hot spots and the unexplainable nervousness from the stands, supporters who perhaps wanted everything straight away forgetting about the limitations of each team, and then if we add to this the strategy put forward by the rival, things just did not add up. However, a play from below by Muniain allowed Toquero, one hundred matches with our shirt; score from below with the left beating Munua who had stepped forward. The goal was dedicated to Susaeta, who is still recovering from his pneumothorax operation in a medical clinic.
A bit of peace, that was not disturbed by the rival in excess up until the halftime break, with the exception of Caicedo’s weak shot at goal that was caught by Iraizoz. Levante, logically, had to tackle the second with a more offensive attitude, but they ran out of time, because in the first attack move Nano took Llorente by the arm and Llorente made this action look even more obvious. Then David López converted the penalty into goal masterfully in the 47th minute. And from this moment on the match changed.
Athletic, free as a bird, dedicated themselves to making contact with the ball, making the most of the gaps, upsetting and playing better and were a breadth away from increasing their general goal average in such a way that it would be almost impossible for Espanyol to compete against us. Those sweet minutes were faced with the absence of Orbaiz, who was unable to get over the blow he received in the first half. Gurpegi took over.
Llorente, this time in the starting line up, just like San José, David López and the already mentioned Orbaiz as the main novelties, started to believe in meigas (Galician witches) prior to our trip to A Coruña. Two good passes to the centre by David López… and the two Llorente headers to follow just missed. San Mamés, now more at ease, awaited the third goal, but Llorente just couldn’t make it in time to finish off Toquero’s pass to the centre, and Toquero had the next opportunity with a volley but unfortunately the ball struck a rival player’s head.
Perseverance paid off in the end with a similar formula as that of the first goal. A deep pass by Muniain, incursion on behalf of Toquero and this time, instead of trying to finish if off, he kicked a horizontal pass to Llorente who scored his seventeenth goal in the League this season, up close and with the right, since a header was not possible. It was the 62nd minute mark, Athletic deserved more and in the end they ended up singing psalms of gratitude.
Caparrós then went on to make his second substitution and Gabilondo was sent in to replace an exhausted Muniain, who just like Llorente, Gurpegi, Koikili and Aurtenetxe is just one booking away from a sanction. Luis García also made his second substitution, with Stuani taking over from Caicedo, seeing that just a bit earlier Jefferson Montero had stepped in for Rubén. Soon afterwards, due to an injury, Pallardó replaced Iborra.
The match was under control, but in football there are no ceasefires and when our fourth goal seemed more likely than the visitors’ first, Munua deflected a centre shot at goal hammered by Iraola with his hand and in the counterattack that followed Valdo’s centre, Stuani was there to finish it off. This was in the 77th minute.
Urko Vera stepped in for Llorente and things followed their course, but with only five minutes left to go there was a ruckus in the area, with a possibly illegal position on behalf of Ballesteros, which ended with Nano who was able to find the back of the net. Five minutes to go as well as the four minutes of injury time allotted by Ramírez Domínguez, who was refereeing his last official clash at San Mamés, and the nervousness in this case was more than justified, given that the enormous effort made in putting the match on the right track could have gone down the drain along with the three points, as shown in previous encounters, points which are worth their weight in gold.
Levante had a frivolous mathematical need, if you can call it that, that will be even greater on Tuesday, in Riazor when Athletic play against Deportivo and they will also depend on the result achieved by Málaga next weekend, but beyond other people’s misfortunes there’s our team’s determination to consolidate their place in Europe first of all and, later, fight it out so that they end up in the spot closest to the fourth placed team. In a week it will be known if Athletic will play in Europe next season.
The Athletic Club line up Iraizoz; Iraola, San Jose, Ekiza, Castillo; David Lopez, Javi Martinez, Orbaiz, Muniain; Llorente and Toquero. On the bench: Raúl; Amorebieta, Iturraspe, De Marcos, Gabilondo, Gurpegi and Urko Vera. Ibai was not called up.
The Levante UD line up: Munua; J. Venta, Ballesteros, Nano, Juanfran; Iborra, X. Torres; Xisco Nadal, Rubén, Valdo and Caicedo. On the bench: Reina, H. Rodas, Pallardo, G. Larrea, W. Silva, Stuani and Jeff Montero.
Referee: Ramírez Domínguez.