Athletic Club found themselves down 2-0 late in the second half and their Europa League dreams began to fade. However, they were able to score three goals in five minutes to earn a dramatic 3-2 victory in Greece. The Lions will now defend their lead at the San Mamés next week with hopes of earning their place in the group stage of the Europa League.
From the opening whistle it was clear that Athletic wanted to impose their style of play on their hosts. The Lions dominated possession and pressed high up the pitch, creating a lot of problems for the Greeks. As the minutes passed though, the Basques struggled to actually do anything with their possession and Panathinaikos slowly started to get into the game and find a rhythm. After 15 minutes of play it was the home side that was dictating play while Athletic chased the ball hoping to establish control once again.
Eventually Raúl García would pick up a booking but that was the least of Athletic’s worries. In the 29th minutes the Greeks hit on the counter and caught Athletic’s defense out of position. A ball was crossed to the top of the box where Lod took one touch to get by Xabi Etxeita and was left alone with Iago Herrerin. The keeper wasn’t able to come up with the save and Panathinaikos were up 1-0. The stadium buzzed and the Lions spent the rest of the half just trying to stop the bleeding and not allow another goal.
The second half began much like the first. Kuko Ziganda had obviously given his players a firm talking to during the break because they came out with a lot of energy and tried to immediately change the game. For the most part they were back in control, but once again a Panathinaikos counter left them reeling. The Greeks played several quick passes around the top of the box and one eventually fell to Cabezas who curled his effort into the top corner where Herrerin had no chance of making the save. The Greeks led 2-0 and it was imperative that Athletic get an away goal to take back to Bilbao.
Ziganda quickly brought on Iñaki Williams who immediately changed the entire complexity of the game. His pace added a spark and the Basques were once again causing problems. Their relentlessness would eventually be rewarded when they earned a corner kick. The cross skipped out to Iker Munain who cut inside and sent in another cross which almost looked like a shot because of how hard he struck it. Rising above everyone else at the far post was Aritz Aduriz and he headed the ball past the keeper to get the vital away goal.
The Lions were not finished there. Three minutes later a nearly identical play occurred when Mikel Balenziaga whipped in a cross from the left that found Oscar De Marcos at the far post. The right-back volleyed his effort into the back of the net to draw Athletic level at 2-2. A few minutes later it was Iñaki Williams who caused chaos when he was played into the box and taken down by his defender. Aduriz stepped up to take the penalty and calmly sent his shot down the middle to make it 3-2 and complete the amazing comeback.
With the lead in hand Ziganda brought on Mikel San Jose and Markel Susaeta to help keep the advantage and finish out the game. Both sides had a few more slight chances on goal, but it was clear that the game was over. The referee soon blew the final whistle with Athletic Club having done the unthinkable, scoring three second half goals in five minutes, to win 3-2 and take their lead back to the San Mamés next week for the second leg. Fans were quick to point out that these were the types of matches that Athletic lost lost year, and it was great to see the Basques pull off such a dramatic comeback in a hostile stadium.
Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerin, Oscar De Marcos, Xabi Etxeita, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Beñat (Mikel San Jose 77′), Mikel Vesga, Iker Muniain (Markel Susaeta 84′), Raúl García, Inigo Lekue (Iñaki Williams 57′), Aritz Aduriz