Europe was on the line Saturday as Athletic welcomed Alavés to San Mamés for a crucial Basque Derby. A win would essentially seal a top 7 finish for the Lions and end any hope that Alavés had of qualifying for Europe. Both sides knew the importance of the fixture and the game started with plenty of energy and an electric atmosphere.
Raúl García would have the first chance of the game after just seven minutes. The midfielder dribbled past two defenders and into the box but was unable to put his shot on target. Alavés immediately responded by playing Jony through with only the keeper to beat. Iago Herrerín rushed out and forced a shot off the post to keep Alavés from opening up the scoring.
The game began to get physical and tempers were starting to rise. Alavés had another chance to score at the near post but Unai Nuñez was able to make a great tackle to stop the shot. Raúl García would then get a bicycle kick from a corner kick. San Mamés took a collective deep breath as they watched the shot sail over the crossbar.
Finally, in the 40th minute, Athletic would open up the scoring. Beñat blasted a free kick from the left corner of the box past the goalkeeper who couldn’t do anything to stop it. The Lions had their lead, but Alavés weren’t about to lie down. The visitors equalized in stoppage time when Herrerín punched a free kick that was sent back into the box and cleaned up by Borja Bastón.
Athletic were quick to take control after the break and were clearly the better side throughout the second half. After a few half chances, Gaizka Garitano brought on Iñigo Córdoba for Markel Susaeta and the Lions looked even more capable. However, Alavés continued to defend well and didn’t give up anything easy. The best chance would come in the 70th minute when Iñaki Williams had a free header in the box but was off balance and sent it just over the crossbar.
The match then became even more physical with Iñaki and Muniain both being taken down in the box, but no penalties were given. Iñaki would have a chance for another header but couldn’t get to it due to contact and once again wanted a foul called. Alavés would have their chance to win the game in the 86th minute when Wakaso cut inside the box and looked certain to score a goal but Iñigo Martinez was able to block his shot.
Garitano brought on Aritz Aduriz for Iñaki in the 88th minute looking for the winner but it would never come. The match ended in a 1-1 which was a fair result and not bad for Athletic. The Zurigorri defended their three-point lead over Alavés and are still in a position to control their own destiny. They could move one step closer to qualify for Europe on Sunday when they travel to Real Valladolid.