Mission accomplished for Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao after 1-0 win in Salzburg
It was mission accomplished for Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao as they progressed to the last 32 of the Europa League thanks to a first-half strike from Ander Herrera that earned them a 1-0 win at Salzburg. Los Leones qualified from Group F with two games remaining following a determined second-half defensive display to thwart the Austrians before 12,000 fans at the Red Bull Arena.
Both sides had injury problems in the lead-up to the game, with Bielsa missing key players Borja Ekiza, Fernando Amorebieta (who came on as a substitute) and Carlos Gurpegui, while his opposite number Ricardo Moniz was without his attacking trio of Roman Wallner, Leonardo and Gonzalo Zárate.
The home side dominated the opening proceedings, with Gorka Iraizoz saving well from Franz Schierner and Simon Cziommer, but the visitors went ahead against the run of play on 38 minutes, Ander Herrera slipping the ball past Eddie Gustafsson in the Salzburg goal following a brilliant ball from Iker Muniain. It was a lead the Basques did not relinquish with Iraizoz once again in fine form late on to deny Martin Hinteregger.
The performance was welcomed by a delighted Bielsa, who said: “I appreciated the fact we never gave up playing, but we struggled to finish off our chances,” although he recognised the absence of Muniain, who was replaced at half-time by Gaizka Toquero, affected Bilbao’s passing style.
“Our inability to pierce their defence and create final passes had a lot to do with Muniain being off the pitch,” he admitted. “His substitution could probably have been delayed but the second half was very similar to the first half in that it was tight.”
He added: “They caused us more trouble in the opening 45 minutes and the opportunities we gave them were because our passing was poor. After the break we did not make such mistakes. We defended well, won the ball back well and did not allow them many chances.”
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