Gaizka Garitano “This Team Never Gives Up”
Athletic survived a scare on Wednesday night after being taken all the way to a penalty shootout against Elche. The Lions scored the opening goal in just five minutes but conceded an equalizer just before halftime. Extra time wasn’t enough to decide the match but Athletic managed to defeat Elche 5-4 on penalties to book their place in the final 16 of the Copa del Rey.
“These single cup matches away from home are like this,” Gaizka Garitano told reporters after the game. “We knew it was going to be complicated. We started very well, with a goal and control and then we had a bad half hour where Elche were better because we weren’t comfortable. Afterwards, we owned the game but had problems with the final ball.”
The Mister was quick to praise Elche’s performance. Athletic were pushed until the very end, though Garitano believes the Basques deserved to win and advance to the next round.
“Elche played well because their team emptied themselves. We started losing balls and they have good players who took advantage. There’s a reason why they are high in the Segunda table. The last half hour of the first half wasn’t good. We dominated after that point and had many crosses but Elche were organized at the back.”
Athletic were on the brink of elimination in the penalty shootout. Elche had taken a 3-1 lead before Iñaki Williams, Asier Villalibre, Yuri Berchiche, and Mikel Vesga all converted chances. Iago Herrerín made a save in between two missed shots to earn the victory.
“In a penalty shootout you can win or lose. It got very complicated and we almost lost but if there’s one thing that characterizes this teams it’s that the team never gives up. With a small possibility of winning we scored two penalties. Elche played a magnificent game, but we deserved to win because of the way we dominated the second half and extra time. We had to go through difficulties but we are happy to advance.”
There was drama during the penalty shootout as replay showed Iago Herrerín left his line too early to make a save but the shot wasn’t retaken. “I can’t say,” Garitano answered when asked if he thought there should have been a second attempt. “From the bench I can’t see if a goalkeeper has stepped forward.”
The manager went on to explain that he personally chose those who would take the penalties. Garitano also praised Asier Villalibre who converted his penalty and had a chance to win the game in extra time but had a great effort saved by the goalkeeper.
“I chose all five penalty takers and they all agreed. It was more complicated starting with the sixth but there were players ready to step forward. I coached Villalibre at Bilbao Athletic and he takes penalties very well. He’s brave. A forward has to score these goals. It’s a pity that he didn’t score the chance he had in extra time.”
Once again, Athletic failed to capitalize from set pieces despite having several opportunities. The same issue plagued the team over the weekend against Celta Vigo and Garitano made it clear that there must be improvement.
“Set pieces are the biggest weakness that we have right now. We’re putting balls into the box but aren’t scoring goals. Between the Celta match and today we created several chances without scoring. This is our weak point and we have to be better.”
Having booked their place in the last 16, Athletic will now turn their attention to Saturday’s trip to Espanyol. It will be the team’s third game in less than one week and the players will have more confidence following the win over Elche.
“We will play three games in six days and we need freshness. Nobody wins easily in this tournament. The opponents are increasingly stronger and every game becomes more challenging. We are happy to continue in this beautiful competition and we know it will become more difficult.”
Athletic currently sit two points off of fifth place and must continue getting positive results to stay in the race for Europe. Espanyol are desperate for points at the moment and will be a very difficult side playing in front of their own fans. The Zurigorri have just a single win on the road in league play this season and will have to be at their best to leave Catalonia with a victory.