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Bielsa calm as Athletic confront Sporting

"We are ready," said Marcelo Bielsa as his Athletic Club side look to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Sporting Clube de Portugal, whose coach Ricardo Sá Pinto is keen on a final return.

Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa is in relaxed mood for the visit of Sporting
Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa is in relaxed mood for the visit of Sporting ©Getty Images

Marcelo Bielsa sounded oddly relaxed as his Athletic Club side awaited their UEFA Europa League semi-final decider against Sporting Clube de Portugal seeking to overturn a one-goal deficit.

Athletic trail 2-1 from the first leg in Lisbon but have reason for optimism in Bilbao. They have won all three of their home games against Portuguese teams in UEFA competition, while Sporting are yet to win in Spain in nine visits. Argentinian coach Bielsa could yet end his first full season in Europe with a major continental trophy, but the 56-year-old is eager to take some sting out of the match.

"These big games always create a certain level of expectation," he said. "That is in proportion to the prize at the end of the tie, which is a UEFA Europa League final. The best way of expressing ourselves to our fans is through the football we play. Even if the best team doesn't always win, you still have to try to be the best."

The former Chile coach, whose team won 1-0 at Real Racing Club on Sunday, was reluctant to analyse the fixture too much – at least in public – beyond saying: "We must defend well so that they don't score, and attack in order to find the net ourselves".

The magnitude of the occasion, meanwhile, seemed to be no great problem. "You cannot compare reaching a European final to other achievements," he said. "Big milestones don't stand up to comparison. There isn't a possible situation that could arise in this game that fills me with dread. We are ready. The best way to get a victory is to think only about winning."

Bielsa's opposite number Ricardo Sá Pinto also has a fair idea of what to expect at San Mamés, saying: "I don't think Athletic will change their way of playing; I expect them to play the same way as they did at the Estádio José Alvalade – offensively. Their strategy is something we have to be aware of, but we are ready to stop them."

The Spanish side are without Óscar de Marcos following his first-leg booking, but Sporting's Marat Izmailov is also banned and Sá Pinto described their absences as "a pity – both are great players." He remains confident his side can cope, however, perhaps emboldened by Sunday's 3-2 win at CD Nacional that extended their unbeaten run to seven games.

"I'm not worried about the crowd at San Mamés, it will be good for them but also for us," he said. "This season we've played in tough places like Manchester, Warsaw and [Kharkiv] so we are used to full stadiums and difficult atmospheres."

Avoiding defeat or better would give Sporting the chance to atone for their UEFA Cup final loss to PFC CSKA Moskva seven years ago and Sá Pinto acknowledged that is a strong personal motivation. "I played in the final in 2005 and now I'm hoping to get there as a coach," he said. "This is a significant moment in my coaching career and being in charge of this team is an honour and a big responsibility. We want to provide brilliant moments to the club by winning and getting through to the final."