Manchester United 2 Athletic Club 3 Athletic Club have written another brilliant page in club…
Manchester United 2 Athletic Club 3
Athletic Club have written another brilliant page in club history by defeating Manchester United at Old Trafford by 2-3, our first triumph on English soil in an official competition. Llorente, De Marcos and Muniain were the heroes, while Rooney scored on behalf of the locals, the second from a penalty kick. The first step has been taken, but the most difficult one in order to reach the quarter-finals is yet to come and we are going to take it next Thursday at San Mamés which will be jam-packed after the football exhibition given and support lent at an incomparable scenario. In the meantime, another league challenge, in this case in Iruñea against Osasuna.
The wager was as clear as it was known: sights set high and ball possession. The locals, on the other hand, were more inclined to try and make the most of their lethal speed and class of their wingers and offensive players at the expense of dominating the encounter except on sporadic occasions; this is not to say less dangerous occasions. Finally our team demonstrated their superiority on the pitch and to their loyal fans in the stand up to the point of silencing the mythical stadium at times. A perfect and effective double act.
Llorente inaugurated the list of goal-scoring opportunities with a shot at goal that just missed the goalposts defended by De Gea, the Reds’ best player, without a doubt. Along with the goalie the weight of the offensive play was carried by Rooney, who starred in the first goal-scoring opportunity but his shot went high.
Nevertheless, the build up of danger was destined for the host team’s goalmouth. Following a quite clear penalty committed against Llorente, so clear that the referee signalled the foul against them, the match became more and more open. Athletic had possession of the ball more, but not always better, and the class of Untied, and their vertical position, were an incentive for us not to drop our guard.
An example of this was the following sequence: Susaeta shot straight to De Gea’s hands and soon afterwards a quick counter move culminating in Chicharito taking a shot at goal that was repelled by Iraizoz and pushed into the back of the net by Rooney. This was in the 21st minute. Almost without them really knowing how.
Nonetheless, neither the team nor the fans become blue. What’s more, besides the desire of the outsiders and the fact that United already had the 1-0 score that Sir Alex Ferguson was satisfied with, the new scenario brought about long bouts of ball possession and the creation of goal-scoring opportunities. Iraola had a go in the 26th minute for De Gea to intervene, and in the 29th minute Llorente finished off with a header that went high, in the 32nd a deep pass from Herrera and Susaeta’s speed allowed the latter to plant himself in front of De Gea, but his attempt at a chip shot went astray. A great opportunity wasted.
De Gea kept hogging the limelight when in the 35th minute he sent to corner Iraola’s great left footed shot at goal and, finally, the reward was obtained in the minute that has been baptised as psychological, the 45th minute of the first half, following a precise centre pass by Susaeta and an unstoppable Llorente header.
The knock-out tie now had another hue, but it was still to see how both teams would tackle the second half, especially keeping in mind some of our own precedents. With no changes in either team, Athletic came out onto the pitch to convert the dream of playing at Old Trafford into a reality and were not content with the speculation of a goal being scored on the opposite side of the field. What’s more, the 1-2 score was reached too late considering the array of goal-scoring opportunities.
If it had not been for De Gea, the final score would have been greater, but then again that’s what goalkeepers are for. De Marcos’s shot at goal was excessively high in the 47th minute, and in the 49th Muniain put De Gea to the test again, in the 51st Llorente finished off a ball with his left that struck the side of the net and in minute 55 of the game his other shot at goal was well deflected by De Gea, which left his claim in becoming the best Red-White goalscorer in a European competition on the sideline. It will come!
Ferguson decided to make some changes and sent Smalling, who had recently reopened his head wound, to the showers and Carrick took his place so as to reposition Jones.
Following San José not being able to hook a volley and before the first card of the match was shown, Anderson replaced Ji Sun Park. Athletic were happy with the draw but wanted and deserved more. In the 67th minute Muniain combined well with Herrera, but came up against De Gea. Manchester, on the contrary, did not create too much danger and the ball that Iraizoz had to recuperate from under Chicharito’s feet is also worth a mention.
The work revolved around the goalmouth closest to the thousands of tireless Red-White throats and in the 71st minute an elevated pass by Herrera was finished off by De Marcos who was on the limit position-wise and thus resulting in the 1-2 score on the scoreboard. A dream come true.
Nani stepped in for Giggs and Manchester dominated for a dozen minutes thanks, especially, to Rooney at the three-quarter line and his determination to score: he missed in the 76th and kicked a tough one in the 79th, but Iraizoz was in a good position.
Bielsa made way for Toquero to take over from a fatigued Llorente in the 80th minute and the newcomer to the field took a shot at goal which De Gea sent for a corner.
Everything indicated that the match would end this way, but in the 90th minute Iraola’s deep pass was controlled by Toquero, and De Marcos hammered away, De Gea blocked the shot, but took too long to get up and gather up the ball and Rafael could only see what was coming from one side.
But on the other side Muniain then appeared to score the third. Collective mayhem, cries of “one more”, but this came about during injury time and in favour of United when Rooney converted a penalty, after a hand-ball by De Marcos.
In addition to the excellent outcome achieved, it’s difficult to contemplate another massive trip taken on by fans in a European competition encounter other than a final. What won’t be difficult, if not impossible, is to give and receive such support from beginning to end. Eight thousand lions in Manchester which will turn into almost 40,000 next Thursday at San Mamés in an attempt to keep on making the European dream a reality. And this, fortunately, never ends.