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Athletic leave it late as Llorente sets up final date

Published: Thursday 26 April 2012, 23.12CET
Athletic Club 3-1 Sporting Clube de Portugal (agg: 4-3)
Sporting finally buckled under the pressure as Fernando Llorente's 88th-minute strike took Athletic through to their second UEFA final.
by Graham Hunter
from San Mamés

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Published: Thursday 26 April 2012, 23.12CET

Athletic leave it late as Llorente sets up final date

Athletic Club 3-1 Sporting Clube de Portugal (agg: 4-3)
Sporting finally buckled under the pressure as Fernando Llorente's 88th-minute strike took Athletic through to their second UEFA final.

Athletic Club defeated Sporting Clube de Portugal 4-3 on aggregate in an epic semi-final at the San Mamés to reach their second final in UEFA competition – 35 years after the first.

Leading 2-1 on the night thanks to goals from Markel Susaeta and Ibai Gómez either side of Ricky van Wolfswinkel's crisp strike, extra time loomed. But with two minutes left Gómez's left-footed drive across goal was poked in by Fernando Llorente's outstretched right boot, the ball going in off Rui Patrício's right-hand post, to set up an all-Spanish UEFA Europa League final against Club Atlético de Madrid in Bucharest on 9 May.

Like the UEFA Champions League semi-finals over the previous 48 hours, this thrilling match was packed with creative football. Initially Gómez looked like he wanted to win it on his own. He set up Iker Muniain for a chance well blocked by André Martins and forced a top save from Patrício, yet the 17th-minute breakthrough was a slick team affair.

Ander Herrera worked ferociously to win possession and feed Muniain. The cross was tempting for Llorente but, instead, he altered his stance, chested it down and allowed Susaeta to crack in with his left foot. Sporting's 2-1 first-leg lead had evaporated; they fought fire with fire, though, as Anderson Polga's glancing header brought the first of many fine saves at both ends.

Before mayhem erupted before the break, Athletic mimicked the flaw which brought the demise of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF earlier this week – missing chances. Andoni Iraola's cross to Gómez was scorned instead of buried and Llorente mis-hit a volley which still needed a good stop from Patrício.

Sporting duly punished the profligacy on 44 minutes as Martins pounced on Gorka Iraizoz's unconvincing clearance and lashed in a shot from the loose ball. It broke to Van Wolfswinkel and the Dutchman finished clinically. By half-time the aggregate scores were dead level as Llorente produced a world-class turn and flick and Gómez darted in to clip past Patrício.

It was thrilling and the second half no less so. Patrício needed the save of the match to stop Susaeta's pile-driver and within moments of each other Javi Martínez knocked a header off the far post and, at the other end, Emiliano Insúa matched the feat with a deflected drive. Extra time beckoned; then came Llorente's decisive intervention, taking Athletic through to their first European showpiece since losing on away goals to Juventus in the 1976/77 UEFA Cup.

Last updated: 27/11/12 6.39CET

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