Bilbao’s Basque spirit
Schalke 04 2-4 Athletic Bilbao
Athletic Bilbao are quickly turning into the European sensation of the season.
Their impressive exhibition of how to win a big European away game is the culmination of something that started against Manchester United prior to the quarter-finals, when they beat the Red Devils 3-2 at Old Trafford. There, they put their stamp on the Europa League as one of the favourites to win the competition.
It got even better in Germany on Thursday night. It looked like being an uphill struggle for the Basque side after an hour of play in the Veltins Arena.
Schalke were 2-1 ahead thanks to a double strike – somewhat ironically from Spanish legend Raul Gonzalez, in the 22st and 60th minutes, but Bilbao’s reaction stunned the Germans, who were by then giving off an air of assumption that they had the match under control.
Then, step forward Fernando Llorente. He had scored the first goal of the game in the 20th minute, and the giant Spanish striker’s header from a corner in the 73rd minute levelled the tie – and gave his team an important second away goal.
Knife to the heart for Schalke's morale
It was not only the equaliser, the goal had a bigger impact, like a knife to the heart for Schalke’s morale. Schalke were a different team after that. They looked beaten, as Bilbao’s Basque spirit burned brightly.
The Spaniards, who have a real chance of winning the competition, were not satisfied with two away goals. Marcelo Bielsa’s side dazed Schalke, then went for the kill.
Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain (pictured) closed out the game – and left Schalke needing to score at least three goals in the return leg, with the third and fourth goals in the 81st and and 93rd minute.
Until the 81st minute, Schalke’s hopes of a semi-final place were already on the rocks. By the time Muniain added Bilbao’s fourth, Schalke were well and truly shipwrecked.
Bilbao already have an eye on the final. If they can score three goals at Old Trafford and four away to a side like Schalke, the winner of the Sporting Lisbon versus Metalist Kharkiv quarter-final should present a golden opportunity for a date with destiny in Bucharest on May 9.
By Ivan Molina
Follow me on Twitter: @IvanMolinaC