Gaizka Garitano “I’m Happy To Play A Basque Final, I’m Happy For Basque Football”
Athletic survived yet another scare in the Copa del Rey on Thursday night with Yuri Berchiche scoring a crucial away goal late in the second half to send the Lions through to the Cup final. Granada had scored twice and looked posed to advance until Berchiche silenced Nuevo Estadio de Los Cármenes in the final minutes of the match. The stage is now set for a Basque Derby against Real Sociedad and Gaizka Garitano is thrilled about the magnitude of this unique final.
“It’s not easy to advance without suffering, especially when playing the second game away from home. The success in the Cup is no coincidence. It’s a joy to go to the final. We congratulate La Real because they also managed to reach the final. I’m happy to play a Basque final, I’m happy for Basque football. I’m happy for the people of Bilbao and many others are happy for what has happened.”
Garitano didn’t overlook the fact that Granada were clearly the better side in the second leg. Athletic were pushed to the very edge and the manager admitted that either team would have been deserving of a place in the final.
“Granada is ahead of us in the league and they made things very difficult for us. We came with a favorable lead that we could have increased, but we knew the difficulty. Granada were better and superior, but we were better at home. They carried the weight of the game. When it looked like we had lost the tie we managed to score. Either team would have deserved to advance, us for the first leg and today for Granada.”
The Mister has been full of praise for his team all season with Athletic regularly overcoming adversity. Garitano once again highlighted the squad’s refusal to quit in difficult situations and credited the Cup run to the team’s mentality.
“When things get worse this team knows how to handle it. We were not ourselves tonight, the players were too cautious, but we managed the responsibility. Granada had nothing to lose and it was noticed. The team has a lot of merit, everything that’s happened in the cup has a lot of merit. This team has two balls, always. This team never lowers its head even in the worst situations. That means a lot in football. I’m glad to be a small part of this.”
With Athletic set to face Real Sociedad on 18 April, Garitano believes it will be an extremely difficult game for both sides. “Right now La Real are superior, but we aren’t an easy team to beat,” said the manager. “They have great players and are a very good good side. Right now we have to focus on the league and we are only thinking about Valladolid.”
On Sunday Athletic will turn their attention back to La Liga. The Zurigorri will travel to Real Valladolid in search of three important points to continue climbing the table. Athletic still have hopes of finishing in the top seven, though winning the Copa del Rey would qualify the team for Europe and reaching the final already guarantees a place in next year’s Spanish Super Cup.