The hosts came out of the blocks first at the Estadio Jose Alvalade with former Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua going close and striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel seeing his effort go wide. Joao Pereira then hit a post but it was the visitors who got their noses in front nine minutes after the break when Jon Aurtenexte turned home from close range following a scramble in the box.
Fernando Amorebieta almost doubled the visitors’ lead when he hit the post and saw the ball roll agonisingly across goal, but Sporting drew level 15 minutes from time when Insua’s instinctive header found the corner of Gorka Iraizoz’s net. Five minutes later the Portuguese side went ahead in the tie through Diego Capel, the Spanish international cutting in from the left and unleashing an unstoppable low shot to the goalkeeper’s left to down his countrymen.
Sporting pushed for a third late on but Athletic managed to keep them out, leaving the tie firmly in the balance ahead of next week’s second leg at the San Mames, and Capel said he thought his team could have won by more.
“It would have been unjust if we had lost that game,” insisted the former Sevilla winger. “We played with a great attitude tactically, defended well and created lots of chances. But football can be like that. In the end we got a great result against a side with real European pedigree. In fact it’s probably a tighter result than we merited, because we deserved another goal.”
Athletic midfielder Ander Herrera considered it a positive result for the Basques and is confident Marcelo Bielsa’s men can pull through in next week’s return leg.
“Overall this is a positive result,” said Herrera. “A 1-0 win would put us through so we need to be optimistic. We are strong at San Mames in front of our own fans and we just need to go out and demonstrate that. We have a result that we can overturn and need to improve because there were things to improve upon, but we also have to be optimistic.
“We need to remember the game against Lokomotiv Moscow when we had a similar away result but took them to Bilbao and won to knock them out.”
Sporting Lisbon 2-1 Athletic Bilbao
Scorers: Insua 75, Capel 80 (SPO), Aurtenexte 54 (BIL)
Sporting Lisbon: Rui Patr