x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Manchester United given a Spanish lesson by classy Athletic Bilbao

Egged on by 40,000 supporters, the Basques and Copa del Rey finalists boost Champions League hopes. Sports round-up audio

Fernando Llorente started off the celebrations for Athletic Bilbao.
Fernando Llorente started off the celebrations for Athletic Bilbao.

BILBAO // Manchester United were last night knocked out of European competition for the second time this season following another defeat against Athletic Bilbao.

The Basques added a 2-1 home victory to last week's 3-2 triumph at Old Trafford to progress to the last eight of the Europa League, while United's focus will switch back to retaining the Premier League, the only competition the club are left in, over rivals Manchester City.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side have been poor in Europe this season by their usual standards. The team which reached three of the last four Champions League finals has triumphed in only three of their 10 games and won just once at home.

Athletic's excellent season continues. As well as their Europa League exploits, they have reached the Copa del Rey final where they will face Barcelona.

They are also chasing a Champions League spot, with fatigue their greatest foe. Last night's game was their 11th in European competition alone this season.

Their team have given a buzz to Spain's fifth biggest city and Bilbao was in a state of high anticipation yesterday. Red and white Athletic flags fluttered from apartments, shops and public buildings, while everybody seem to be wearing red and white in the sun, from children playing in parks to pensioners walking the grand boulevards near San Mames.

Nowhere was the anticipation higher than in the old stadium which they call 'the cathedral'.

"Athletic! Athletic!" they hollered, almost 40,000 Basques outnumbering the visiting fans by 40-1.

They waved Basque flags and made a din as impressive as the one 8,000 of them made at Old Trafford last week when their side stunned United with a 3-2 victory in the thrilling first leg.

They did not need a repeat performance to go through - a draw would have sufficed, even a narrow defeat, hardly the tallest order for a side unbeaten in their last six European games.

Marcelo Bielsa's side were not complacent about their lead. Fernando Llorente set up his Spanish international teammate Iker Munian and the 19-year-old struck the post with a 14th-minute shot.

Llorente was at the centre of all that was brilliant about the Basques and put his side ahead with a 23rd-minute volley past compatriot David de Gea.

United were better than in the first leg, but their only response was a Ryan Giggs header on target in the 26th minute, though Tom Cleverley could have appealed for a penalty three minutes later after being tripped by Ander Herrera inside the area.

With a 4-2 advantage, a superior work rate and the buzz of a lead, the mood was so buoyant that it barely diminished when Llorente was substituted with an injury after 40 minutes.

The momentum stayed with the home side after the break.

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Andoni Iraola almost added a second on 53 minutes after beating three opponents, before the second did come after 65 minutes when Oscar de Marcos chested the ball down and his left-foot shot took a deflection past De Gea.

A late Wayne Rooney strike made it 2-1, but it was scant consolation. United had been beaten by a far superior team home and away and there was not a person in a delirious San Mames who thought otherwise.

 

sports@thenational.ae