A solitary first-half strike from Ander Herrera was enough to earn Athletic Club a 1-0 UEFA Europa League Group F victory at FC Salzburg as the Spanish side confirmed their last-32 place.
Herrera's cool finish shortly before the interval was a cruel blow for Salzburg, who had not conceded a goal in any of their previous four home matches in this season's competition and dominated for much of the opening period. Chances remained scarce in the second half, however, allowing Athletic to move on to ten points. They are certain to reach the round of 32 as neither ŠK Slovan Bratislava nor Salzburg – who have an inferior head-to-head record – can now catch them.
After relinquishing a two-goal lead in the reverse fixture two weeks ago, there was an element of unfinished business for the hosts and Ricardo Moniz's charges began with purpose, controlling possession early on and almost taking the lead with their first shot on goal. A good run by Dušan Švento culminated in a fine first-time strike from Franz Schiemer, but Gorka Iraizoz was equal to it in the Athletic goal.
Simon Cziommer was also denied from the angle as Salzburg continued to probe, but the visitors' technical class meant wasted chances were likely to prove costly. The home side's fears were confirmed eight minutes before the break as the Bilbao side broke with pace. The counter looked to have fizzled out, but Iker Muniain resurrected the move and threaded through for Herrera to slot past Eddie Gustafsson into the corner.
Salzburg's second-half game plan largely revolved around picking out Stefan Maierhofer up front, but the away defence marked the towering striker diligently. Martin Hinteregger's rasping effort brought a superb save from Iraizoz and substitute Roman Wallner blazed over late on, yet otherwise there was little threat to the visitors' advantage. Salzburg now face a crucial clash at home to second-placed Paris Saint-Germain FC on December 1, when Los Leones meet Slovan.