Athletic Club vs. Sporting CP  3 - 1


Bielsa: We deserved this

27 April 2012 06:24

Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa was relieved to see his side score a late winner in their Europa League semi-final against Sporting Lisbon.

Striker Fernando Llorente scored in the 87th minute at San Mames to give Bilbao a 3-1 win on the day and a 4-3 aggregate victory over two legs to earn the Spaniards a spot in the final in Bucharest on May 9.

Bielsa felt his side deserved to be in the final, and praised Llorente, who had a hand in all three of his side's goals on Thursday.

"Llorente played like I had never seen since I have been at this club," Bielsa said. "Moreover, this was our smoothest match, as far as collective play goes.

"I was very happy for my players. I congratulated them and told them they absolutely deserved this.

"These kind of matches create in the players a huge sense of responsibility because they want to make the fans happy and are afraid to disappoint them. So we are all relieved to go through."

Bielsa is understood to be the favourite to take over from Pep Guardiola at Barcelona if the Spaniard steps down at the end of the season, and the 56-year-old revealed he is set to discuss his future with Bilbao.

"When the season comes to an end, the club and I will make that matter a priority," he said.

Sporting Lisbon coach Ricardo Sa Pinto has lamented the manner in which his side lost in Spain after winning the first leg on home soil.

"It is very hard to lose like this," Sa Pinto told SIC. "Our expectations were to reach the final, that is what we worked for.

"We were an extraordinary team in this competition, in terms of quality and organisation, and we showed an incredible desire to win and reach the final in Bucharest.

"We knew that they wanted to take advantage of aerial play. We faced a very aggressive side, while we lacked some aggression and clarity, especially in the first half.

"I am proud to coach this team and to look at the path we took. I think we honoured Sporting's badge."


Europa League wrap: Bilbao, Atletico set up all-Spanish final

27 April 2012 03:46

Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid will contest an all-Spanish Europa League final after contrasting semi-final victories on Thursday.

Bilbao beat Sporting Lisbon 3-1 at the San Mames to overturn a first-leg deficit and progress 4-3 on aggregate.

The Portuguese side had claimed a 2-1 victory in Lisbon a week ago, but goals from Markel Susaeta, Ibai Gomez and Fernando Llorente were enough to see Marcelo Bielsa's team progess, despite a Ricky Van Wolfswinkel goal.

Bielsa's side were applying heavy pressure and the breakthrough came on 17 minutes when Susaeta volleyed home from an Iker Muniain cross.

Sporting set out in pursuit of an equaliser and found it one minute before half-time. A corner created confusion in the Bilbao box and Van Wolfswinkel capitalised by sending a left-footed volley into the bottom corner.

But the visitors let down their guard from the restart, and Llorent held up the ball before playing in Gomez, who beat goalkeeper Rui Patricio to ensure the tie was level at 3-3 on aggregate at the break.

Both sides had chances to go ahead in the second half, but the Portuguese resistance was finally broken with just two minutes remaining.

Gomez sent a low ball across the face of goal, and Llorente stuck out a leg to prod the ball into the net, via the post, to send Bilbao into their first European final since 1977.

Atletico Madrid earned their place in the tournament showpiece in Bucharest with a 1-0 win over Valencia in a heated clash at the Mestalla.

Atletico were kept under severe pressure by Valencia for the best part of an hour, but a fantastic goal from Adrian was enough to see them through, even after Tiago's dismissal with 11 minutes remaining.

Goals were definitely on the agenda for Valencia who, with a 4-2 deficit to overturn from the first-leg in the capital, set out their stall to attack right from the start.

But despite putting Atletico under relentless pressure, they could not break through, and the visitors hit back on the counterattack to devastating effect.

Diego clipped a perfectly-weighted ball over the top of the defence towards Adrian, who took it onto his chest before ripping an unstoppable half-volley past Alves for his 10th goal in the tournament.

Tempers flared with 10 minutes to go, as confusion following an apparent handball in the area saw both sets of players square up to each other.

Simeone even rushed off the bench to calm the ruckus, which ended when Tiago was shown his marching orders by the referee after slapping Roberto Soldado.

Valencia made no further inroads despite the numerical advantage, with Atletico on course for their second Europa League title in three years.


Llorente hails Bilbao´s historic win

27 April 2012 02:45

Fernando Llorente said Athletic Bilbao have made history by making the Europa League final with a 3-1 victory over Sporting Lisbon.

The Spanish striker scored the decisive goal in the 4-3 aggregate win, sealing Marcelo Bielsa's men's progression to the Bucharest showpiece, and Llorente was quick to voice his pride at playing his part in an historic night for the club.

"We have made history, and hopefully we can continue doing so," he told Canal+.

"It's great to reach the final, and hopefully we can win it.

"It was my most important (goal)."

The Basque side were buoyed on by the ever-passionate San Mames faithful, and the 27-year-old thanked the fans for their contribution to the victory.

"I'm speechless. It was incredible from the pitch. You don't see this anywhere else. It was amazing," Llorente said.


Europa League preview: All Spanish final on the cards

25 April 2012 21:47

Atletico Madrid have one foot in the Europa League final, and could yet meet Athletic Bilbao in an all-Spanish decider on May 9.

The second team in the Spanish capital, Atletico have enjoyed considerable improvement in their fortunes since former midfielder Diego Simeone took over as coach in December.

They defeated Unai Emery's Valencia 4-2 at home in the semi-final first leg last week.

Valencia are seven points above Atletico in La Liga and on course for Champions League qualification, demonstrating the extent of the achievement if Simeone's players do progress past the third-ranked team in Spain.

Despite their two-goal aggregate lead, advancing to the final is no formality for Atletico. Valencia remain a dangerous prospect and have the advantage of two away goals prior to the return fixture at Estadio Mestalla on Thursday.

Emery's side defeated Real Betis 4-0 in their last outing on Sunday, while Atletico saw off Espanyol 3-1 at home.

In the other semi, Sporting Lisbon of Portugal hold a 2-1 lead going into their second leg away to Athletic Bilbao.

Following the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa as coach, fresh from his stint in charge of Chile, Athletic have been one of the success stories of the European season.

Playing a high-tempo, pressing game, they defeated English Premier League champions Manchester United 5-3 on aggregate in the round of 16, before seeing off Bundesliga side Schalke 6-4 in the quarter-finals.

Athletic are sixth in La Liga, and on course to earn a place in the Europa League again next season.

They led Sporting 1-0 in the first leg last week, but conceded twice in the last 14 minutes to cast serious doubt over their progression to the final.

Sporting have underwhelmed in Liga Sagres this term, and sit 13 points back from leaders Porto in fourth place.

But they overcame English Premier League title contenders Manchester City in the round of 16, going through on away goals following a 3-3 aggregate draw.

And Ukrainian outfit Metalist Kharkiv were dispatched 3-2 over two legs of the semi-finals.

Sporting have stated their credentials to become the third Portuguese team to reach the final in the last two seasons, following Porto's victory over Braga last year.

It will be up to Bielsa's Athletic to stop them if we are to see two Spanish clubs fight for the trophy at the Arena Nationala, Bucharest, next month.

La Liga table

# Team MP D P
12 15 -6 18
13 15 -11 18
14 15 -3 17
15 15 -7 16
16 15 -8 16

Primeira Liga table

# Team MP D P
1 14 +31 36
2 14 +21 36
3 14 +23 33
4 14 +12 28
5 14 +5 27