Athletic Club earned a strong 1-0 win over Panathinaikos on Thursday to book their place in the group stage of the Europa League. Solid performances by Iker Muniain, Aritz Aduriz, and Iñigo Córdoba led the Lions to another dominant showing at the San Mames. The Lions stifled their opponent’s ability to create chances and controlled the game with possession and patience. The drawing for the groups will take place on Friday afternoon.
With a 3-2 lead going into the second leg Athletic knew that they didn’t need to take any risks or allow their opponents to play an open game. From the opening whistle they looked to keep possession and slow things down and it worked immediately. The Lions were content to play conservatively then attack down the wing when the opportunity presented itself. The first chance came after ten minutes when an Iñigo Lekue cross found Iñigo Córdoba at the far post. The winger was just able to get a foot to the ball, but not enough to trouble the keeper.
A few minutes later a free kick found Aritz Aduriz behind the defense. His header hit the post and fell to a teammate who put it in the back of the net but the flag had already been waved. Replay showed that it was a very close close. After two good chances in front of goal it wouldn’t take long for the home side to finally convert and it all started with Aritz Aduriz. The striker played through Markel Susaeta who squared a ball for Iker Muniain. The 24-year-old just got a boot to the the pass to beat the keeper and give Athletic a much deserved 1-0 lead.
After a half hour of play it looked like Athletic would be doubling their lead when Iñigo Córdoba was taken down in the box. However, the referee waved play on despite replay showing there was a clear shove. Before the break Panathinaikos did get a great chance to draw level when Luciano blasted a shot from the left corner of the box. It beat Iago Herrerín but struck the far post and rebounded safely away. The referee soon blew the whistle with the Lions firmly in control.
The second half was very similar to the previous 45 minutes. Athletic played a patient game and tried to take advantage of their opportunities. Markel Susaeta had a chance early in the second half after beating two defenders, but when he pulled the ball back to take a shot it was just barely deflected away. Ten minutes later, after the addition of Iñaki Williams, the Lions would get their second best chance of the game. Iñaki was played through and squared a pass to Aduriz but the keeper was able to rush the shot just enough for the striker to send it over the crossbar.
Kuko Ziganda eventually brought on Mikel Rico and Ager Aketxe for Beñat and Iker Muniain in order to finish off the game and that is exactly what happened. Both teams had a few more slight chances in front of goal but no goals were to come of them. After three added minutes the final whistle came with Athletic having won 1-0 (4-2 on aggregate) to book their place in the Europa League group stages. The drawing will take place on Friday afternoon and the Lions will be hoping for some relief after two consecutive ties against very strong opponents.
Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Iñigo Lekue, Xabi Etxeita, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Beñat (Mikel Rico 72′), Mikel San Jose, Iñigo Córdoba, Iker Muniain (Ager Aketxe 79′), Markel Susaeta (Iñaki Williams 64′), Aritz Aduriz