When Athletic went down 2-0 to Panathinaikos in Athens fans immediately began to see the writing on the wall. The Lions had been here before, several times in fact. It was a familiar story; playing poorly on the road, behind in the scoreline, and with seemingly no idea of how to turn things around. Then, Kuko Ziganda brought on Iñaki Williams and the entire game changed. Aritz Aduriz scored a brilliant header, Oscar De Marcos volleyed home the equalizer, and a penalty capped off the historic comeback.
Calling it a historic comeback isn’t just for emphasis, it actually was historic for the Lions. As Ainara San Cristóbal of Mundo Deportivo pointed out, before Thursday’s win Athletic Club had never before come back from a two goal deficit in the Europa League. The Lions have come close in their history. Twice they have been down by two goals and were able to pull back level for a draw, but never had they actually been able to win.
After the game many fans began to ask whether or not Athletic would have mounted the same comeback if Ernesto Valverde was still coaching the team. This is, of course, a very loaded question that simply cannot be answered. Perhaps they wouldn’t have, but maybe they wouldn’t even have been in the same position. Still, for many fans the comeback signified a change in the team. After constantly watching the Lions play poorly away from home and lose games, this time they tightened their laces and refused to be beaten. It was refreshing.
Historic comeback aside, the start to the new season has certainly been exciting. In three games Kuko Ziganda’s team has been able to score seven goals while conceding only three. The Lions have two wins and one draw and already seem to be playing with much more energy to start the season than in recent years. Now the Basques will turn their attention to La Liga as they will be starting their domestic campaign on Sunday when they host newly promoted Getafe at the San Mamés. Ziganda may be without a handful of players after facing Panathinaikos, but for right now spirits are high and fans are ready to make the Cathedral a fortress once again.