Patxi Salinas “We’re Going To Be Very Optimistic And Go For Everything”
Joseba Etxeberria and Patxi Salinas missed out on playing together by just three years, but both are significant figures in the history of Athletic. This season, the pair returned to the club as coaches with Etxeberria taking over the reigns of Bilbao Athletic and Salinas being named manager of Basconia. One year later, it’s safe to say that their debuts have been extraordinary.
Bilbao Athletic and Basconia both qualified for the promotional playoffs and this will be the first time in 17 years that the two teams have competed for promotion at the same time. The two managers shared a press conference on Tuesday to discuss their upcoming games this weekend and the fact that Basconia can only move up if Bilbao Athletic does so as well.
“We’re aware that we must win our match and then wait for Bilbao Athletic to win theirs against Badajoz,” said Salinas. “We must be concerned about our game, but we’re confident that Bilbao Athletic will win theirs. They’ve had a splendid season, magnificent and wonderful. They arrive in great condition for the playoffs. We believe that it will happen and we will try to do the same.”
Unlike the format for Bilbao Athletic’s playoffs, Basconia will only compete against the three other teams from their group that qualified. The Basauritarras will face off with Portugalete on Saturday for a chance to play the winner of Sestao River and Vitoria in the final.
“I would have preferred to play a home and away and to do it against a team from another group. We would have more options to advance with two games instead of one. Here we all know each other well. We’ve faced each other and know the players, systems, and strategies. We have seen a lot of each other. If will benefit and harm us. It is what it is. We know Portu and they know us.”
Having not played football for several months, Salinas isn’t sure what condition his players will be in on Saturday. The manager isn’t taking anything for granted in what will be a tight game.
“I don’t know what the key will be because I don’t know how well we’re going to be physically. Some say that since we’re younger we will be better, but I don’t know how Portu have trained. I know how we are, doing well frankly, and the boys have a lot of morale. They deserve to play the playoffs and if possible we’d love to move up. We’re going to try it. For our part we’re going to give everything and try to achieve victory on Saturday.”
Portugalete will be a difficult opponent, but there’s an added challenge. This year there will be no extra time or penalties in the Tercera playoffs which means that if the game ends in a tie, the team that finished higher in the table will automatically advance.
“Our playoff is a little different from the others. If we tie we lose because Portugalete would advance. We have to win. There is no overtime or penalties. They’ve been the best team this season. They finished first on their own merits. They’re solid, tough, and have veteran players with a lot of experience, but we can beat them. We already beat them 2-0 at Florida and tied in the game at home. We have good numbers against them and it gives us confidence. We’re prepared. The team has had a fantastic mini-preseason and we arrive in very good conditions. We’re going to be very optimistic and go for everything.”
Fortunately, Basconia will get a boost as Marco Diliberto and Ruben Azcona have both recovered from significant injuries and will be available. Whether or not they play remains to be seen, but having more attacking options will certainly help the team fight for a victory.
“We had the serious injury with Diliberto who said goodbye to the season in November or December. It was pretty much the same with Azcona. They are already back with the group training well, but they’ve gone seven months without playing. It’s possible that they will help us if we see positive things from here until Saturday. Maybe they can play a few minutes. It killed us to not be able to count on them during the season. They’ve already recovered, but I don’t know how ready they are to play. The biggest thing is not having any setbacks.”
There is a chance that some players will be called up to Bilbao Athletic to replace players called up to the first team. Álvaro Núñez, Beñat Prados, Aitor Paredes and Jon Cabo have all debuted with Bilbao Athletic this season, while Nico Williams and Adrián Trespalacios have been included in the Basconia squad for the playoffs.
Salinas will have no complaints if a few players are called up. “The priority is the first team and then Bilbao Athletic,” he said firmly. This weekend will be the most crucial point of the season by far. In addition to Bilbao Athletic and Basconia kicking off their promotional playoffs, the first team will also be playing for European qualification. The pressure is on.