Athletic Club defeated Panathinaikos 1-0 on Thursday to book their place in the group stage of the Europa League. Iker Muniain scored a beautiful team goal early in the second half to put the Lions up 4-2 on aggregate and the Greeks were unable to get back into the game. Following the win, manager Kuko Ziganda spoke to the media and said that the team knew the match would be difficult, but that they are happy to advance in the tournament.
“We knew the pressure that this game would have because for them it was all or nothing, but we trusted in this team because of our experience. It would have been a big disappointment not to advance, but we know that anything can happen in the Europa League. We saw that in Greece. Aduriz’s goal turned things around but then we still had to come back here so we couldn’t relax. Being down 2-0 in Greece was a delicate moment, but we never lost faith and trusted in our quality. We represent Athletic and that is something that makes us feel very proud. We are happy to continue carrying the Athletic name in Europe.”
Ziganda went on to say that Athletic wanted to control the match from the very beginning and that they did well to keep possession. Raúl García’s fever and flue-like symptoms did alter his lineup plans, but the Lions were able to overcome and still play at a high level. One of the changes in the team included Iñigo Córdoba making his first start which is something that the manager says that he has earned.
“The idea was to have a strong and fast start and things went well. We had dominion and control and in the second part we saw that our possession was leading to more chances. The disappointing thing is that we were not able to score a second, but we played well and achieved our goal. We also defended very well and were organized. Raúl García’s flue symptoms caused us to change up the lineup a bit. Iñaki [Williams] was going to start but we shuffled things around and Córdoba was able to start for us. We had concerns because it would be his first start, but we understood that this was the ideal match because of the atmosphere surrounding the game. He deserved it and played very well.”
The drawing for the Europa League group stage will take place on Friday and Athletic fans will be hoping for a break after playing two very difficult opponents to reach this stage. The Lions will be back in action on Sunday when they travel to take on Eibar in the second match of the La Liga season, although Raúl García’s involvement is not yet known. Ziganda will be without Oscar De Marcos after picking up an ankle injury last weekend, but Ander Iturraspe could be making his return to the team after recovering from a muscle problem in his left leg. Now that this huge Europa League clash is behind them, Athletic will be hoping for a strong performance in league play.