Raúl González says it will be an honour to play what may be one last game at San Mamés, and he is determined to go out with a bang as FC Schalke 04 look to overturn a 4-2 UEFA Europa League quarter-final defeat at Athletic Club.
It looked set to be Raúl's night in last Thursday's first leg as he registered twice to overturn Fernando Llorente's opener midway through the first half, his second on the hour a sumptuous volley. Three goals in the last 17 minutes for the visitors completely changed the complexion of the quarter-final tie. "We were better for 70 minutes, but after they made it 2-2 we hit a wall," said the striker. "This may be the best Athletic I've ever seen."
That is high praise indeed of a Bilbao outfit he met frequently during his 16 years at Real Madrid CF. "They were always matches played with a lot of passion," Raúl recalled. "Having the chance to play at San Mamés once more time is an honour and I hope to mark it with a great performance even if our chances of beating Athletic are difficult. It will be a good match because both teams want the win."
Indeed, Schalke coach Huub Stevens hopes Athletic's unbending attacking style will bring their own downfall, though he is banking on his own side profiting from a similar approach. Opposite number Marcelo Bielsa confirmed that his team would play as they always do, a method that has brought its reward in cup competitions if not the Liga – Saturday's 2-0 defeat at FC Barcelona left them five league games without a win.
Bielsa admits as much, thanking Raúl for his praise but dismissing the notion that Athletic are having "a great or successful season". He added: "We have to improve; I've not achieved my target yet. It won't be easy to win on Thursday and we can't ignore Schalke's quality. Raúl is a great player and we'll have to defend well."
Suspensions to Ander Iturraspe and Fernando Amorebieta will hamper those ambitions, while Schalke have their own problems at the back as Christian Fuchs has flu. The timely return of goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall in Sunday's draw at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim provided a surprising lift, however, and if Schalke need further believe they can dwell on the fact that the last time a German side played at San Mamés, in 2009, SV Werder Bremen ran out 3-0 winners.
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