Athletic Club 1 Barcelona 1 Athletic Club have drawn 1-1 against FC Barcelona and are…
Athletic Club 1 Barcelona 1
Athletic Club have drawn 1-1 against FC Barcelona and are eliminated from the Cup on away goals. Abidal and Llorente were the scorers. Our team played a good game and obtained a decent result, but they are eliminated. A pity at the end of the day.
A struggle between the feelings of pride and frustration with which the match ended. The brain in these cases quickly sums up what has happened: “We’re playing against the best team in the world! Most people say we’ll end up with two sacks of goals on our backs! Well, working well in defence, a draw can happen from time to time; but in the second leg, without reserves (as if the first leg had been played by a bunch of cripples), the thrashing will be a hell of a beating! … And the second round is over, with a spectacle of colour and sound from the hotel, through the streets of the city and in the Cathedral itself, with thousands of greased throats of all ages and conditions, cheering, whistling, shouting, applause distributed according to inscrutable criteria and even with the unexpected fool who can now be baptised, With his throw at Abidal, the involuntary protagonist in this second half play to forget for his goal and his great play, he was the only discordant note in a tie played in a dogfight but with sportsmanship.
A duel crowned by a match, tonight’s, that once again dignifies football and even enhances a competition that seems to have been left out of everyone’s hands, that is played in the blink of an eye and with more cement than public, and whose format seems to be made for anything but surprises.
And that’s how Athletic have come out, in search of one of them… which today hasn’t come, no matter how much Guardiola may regale our ears by talking about how the news is to see his team qualify in an atmosphere and against an opponent like the one they have found at San Mamés. Because on the pitch there has been another draw, unfortunately with goals, and for those who “preferred” a comprehensive defeat to leave no room for lamentation, pride can overcome frustration when we remember, regardless of the numbers, that the team that leaves us in the street is the best team in the world (in history?) without beating us in either of the two games and who we have seen tics of worldly weakness, simply because they have done what the rest of us do when the opposition presses and still not suffocating. For example, wasting time from the goal with the scoreboard in advantage, taking out a centre-back instead of a midfielder to reinforce the defence, advising the referee to get cards or avoid them and so we remember that football has for everyone without exclusions that mundane dimension, although only a few carry it on their label.
In a competition where the term rotation is the order of the day, both teams came out with everything available to settle this exciting round of sixteen. Barça wanted to have the ball and press hard. Athletic wanted to be solid at the back again, to counter-attack and take advantage of strategy and long balls. Nothing new in the south wind. Aitor Ocio was back in our line-up after the Spanish Sports Disciplinary Committee did not deign to rule on the appeal lodged by Athletic Club, or even to rule on the request for a precautionary suspension. That’s what it takes to be stressed between sales, Epiphany and other paraphernalia. Defencelessness in short.
Despite the fact that Iraizoz saved a header from Villa in the 7th minute, premonitory in the particular duel, the initial impression of overwhelming dominance of the visitors has been diluted as soon as the red and whites have taken the measure of the distances and have found the right moments to put pressure on a team that insisted on getting the ball played from the edge of their area. The sign that Athletic were working a little better came when Susaeta had a chance in the 13th minute after a killer pass from Gabilondo. Barcelona were also finding it hard to create danger and, if we are going to dig deep, we can only look at a Messi half-back saved by Iraizoz in the 19th minute.
Meanwhile, in a duel of give and take and fair play, people noticed the presence of the referee when he cautioned Gurpegi and Toquero, in the second case with more than justified cause. For example, Toquero himself headed timidly into the hands of Pinto and Xavi shot over the crossbar minutes before he was given a yellow card for a clear yellow card for striking his right boot against Susaeta’s calf, who had to leave the game at half-time with an injury. There has always been class.
Paradoxically, the player who injured Susaeta was sent off with applause when he was substituted with the score in his favour. The San Mamés crowd is like that. Some will like it and others will not. But beyond the cliché, today they have once again given another masterclass in support for their colours because as well as supporting before, during and after, they have understood perfectly the effort of their team and the enormous task undertaken on December 21st.
Before going to the dressing room, where David López came on in place of Susaeta, Pedro shot wide with his left foot and in the 44th minute Gurpegi tried to spring a surprise with a strategic move. After the restart, Athletic had perhaps their most thrilling spell, with ball steals near the rival area, Koikili’s long-range shot into Pinto’s hands, lateral fouls and the gradual sensation that the game was opening up at times, a circumstance which it was not clear whether it was good, bad or average.
On the other plane, the disciplinary one, Busquets was shown the yellow card by popular demand and Ustaritz by request of the stars, there was always class, although the revived debate about the referee was brought to a head with Iniesta’s tackle on Adriano amidst a general booing. The San Mames crowd is like that. Keita was brought on as a false left-back and the visitors gained a lot of space in midfield as Abidal took advantage of the left flank to do a lot of damage, while as Keita focused, Busquets helped to close down the centre of defence.
Caparrós’ second change was De Marcos for Toquero in the 66th minute. Llorente had a chance after the new player had been brought on, and after a short time Iraizoz slipped on his way out, but he beat Villa again with his foot. These were Barcelona’s loosest moments and, with so many players to watch out for, the slightest superiority created was very difficult to stop and so it happened when Abidal came in from the left and with his goal, the third in his sporting career, he was rewarded for his good work in defence and attack. There was only a quarter of an hour to go.
Our team was almost out of steam due to the marking and pressing work of the rival, but the doomsayers who were predicting fifteen minutes of formality were mistaken… and that’s how many… Athletic had to summon up their energy, Muniain replaced Gabilondo and little by little Pinto had his work cut out. In the 80th minute, Martinez, already with muscular discomfort, tried a bicycle kick, Iraola a weak volley into the hands of Pinto, a circumstance that was repeated in the 82nd minute…
Athletic, who are always on their toes, have among their recognised virtues perseverance and never give up, especially at San Mamés, in their quest for a goal. And they managed it in the 85th minute after a pass from Iraola to Llorente and the latter’s right-footed shot into the net. With five minutes to go, San Mamés came to the boil, because it was the moment and because there was no other time. When dealing with fire there is always the risk of abrasion, but Iraizoz was well placed and allowed the team to go into stoppage time with a one-on-one with Villa, a joke considering the changes made and the time that Abidal was treated after suffering the impact of a biscuit, in his words, to his head.
A pity, yes, but in the hour of elimination, the pride of being and belonging prevails over frustration, because when you give everything you have, it is impossible to demand more and Athletic did so today. The rest is football and in the competition, the start of the year has given us two games with good sensations, but as there are no more play-offs, we will have to focus on getting points. Nights like yesterday’s will come again and they will have a happy ending.
Athletic Club fielded Iraizoz; Iraola, Aitor Ocio, Ustaritz, Koikili; Susaeta, Gurpegi, Javi Martínez, Gabilondo; Toquero and Llorente. On the bench were Raúl; David López, Iturraspe, De Marcos, Orbaiz, Muniain and Ekiza. San José was left out of the squad.
FC Barcelona lined up with Pinto; Alves, Piqué, Abidal, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Keita; Pedro, Messi and Villa. On the bench were Valdés; Puyol, Iniesta, Bojan, Mascherano, Milito and Afellay. Jeffren and Thiago were left out of the squad.
Muñiz Fernández refereed, assisted by Fernández and Novoa.