Andoni Iraola has warned Athletic Club that "any mistakes could be punished severely" by Sporting Clube de Portugal in a game that has caught the Bilbao public's imagination.
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Andoni Iraola has warned his Athletic Club team-mates that mistakes will not be tolerated as the Basque outfit prepare to host Sporting Clube de Portugal in a tie that remains in the balance.
Athletic were set to put a tentative foot in May's UEFA Europa League final as they went into the concluding 15 minutes of last week's away leg leading 1-0; two late Sporting goals changed the complexion of the tie. The Spanish side were left to rue their failure to see out the win, and their skipper, Iraola, is determined there will be no repeat at San Mamés on Thursday.
"Sporting are coming here with a lead so the onus is on us to reverse the situation," he said on the eve of the game. "Both sides realise that the scoreline after the first leg leaves the tie wide open and while I expect it will be an open match, any mistakes could be punished severely. I am sure they will be watching out for us letting our guard down, to get in behind us and punish us."
A few teams have done that over the past month, a difficult period when Athletic's eye-catching campaign threatened to derail. They look to be getting back on track now, though, enjoying their third 1-0 win in five outings at the weekend. Another against Sporting would take them through to only their second European showpiece, having finished runners-up in the 1976/77 UEFA Cup – not that Iraola needs reminding.
"The anticipation ahead of this game is as great as I can recall in these parts in recent years, even if we are no stranger to important matches," he said. "It is an occasion that offers us the chance to create history and help the club into what would be a second European final. We know how Sporting play. We have to attack without fear in order to turn the situation around."
No fear, but no recklessness either. Having been stung in Lisbon first by Emiliano Insúa's header and then a stunning effort from Spanish international Diego Capel, they know it will not be easy. "Diego Capel demonstrated in the first leg just how dangerous he can be," cautioned Iraola. "Both he and Daniel Carriçó have to be watched as they offer a real threat. Sporting are very good on the counterattack so we will have to be wary."