The spoils were shared in Turin between Torino and Athletic Club but the evening belonged to two forwards – Iñaki Williams and Maxi López – at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
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The 2-2 draw between Torino FC and Athletic Club in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie in Italy was also the tale of two strikers – Iñaki Williams and Maxi López – with entirely different backgrounds.
Athletic's 20-year-old forward Williams struck after just nine minutes into his European debut, quickly justifying Ernesto Valverde's decision to start with him in attack and rest the more experienced Aritz Aduriz. The much-travelled Torino marksman Maxi López, 30, turned things around with a first-half double and received a standing ovation from the home fans when he was replaced, seconds before Carlos Gurpegi's 73rd-minute equaliser.
Born in Bilbao to a Ghanaian father and a Liberian mother, Williams made his Liga debut on 6 December in a home defeat against Córdoba CF after excelling in Athletic's B team. He added three more substitute appearances in the league before the European tie in Turin. Short of experience, the forward confirmed all his other qualities keeping the Torino rearguard busy with his pace – often moving wide on the right to open up the Granata three-man back line.
"It was important for us to score tonight and it's very positive that Iñaki did it," Valverde said after the game. "We have many good attackers, Iñaki is one of them and he can give us an important contribution with his qualities and skills. When a forward scores, he always deserves to be praised." He added: "Today he played a great game. He has pace and strength. Maybe I will use him in the same position in the return leg but he can be as dangerous also when he starts from a deeper position."
Williams' clinical finish from Borja Viguera's pass was a blow for Torino but the Granata had the strength to regain their feet, mostly courtesy of Maxi López who made the best of the delivery from wing-backs Cristian Molinaro and Matteo Darmian, first with an opportunistic finish and then with a perfect header.
By the time he was 20-years-old, the Argentine had already scored 13 goals for CA River Plate in his native Argentina, earning himself a dream move to FC Barcelona in 2004. He then played for RCD Mallorca, FK Moskva, Grêmio FBPA, Calcio Catania, AC Milan, UC Sampdoria and AC Chievo Verona before continuing his long journey with a January move to Torino.
After scoring only one goal in 13 Serie A games with Chievo, Maxi López has quickly turned skepticism into enthusiasm among the Granata fans by netting a late winner at AC Cesena in the domestic league, and he was surprisingly preferred to Fabio Quagliarella in the starting XI for the game against Athletic. Like Valverde, Torino coach Giampiero Ventura was rewarded for his decision. "Now we have to play like Athletic did [in the second leg]," Quagliarella said after the game. "We have to go to Spain and try to impose our own game, if we play to our standards, we can surely qualify."
He continued: "At this level you pay for every mistake you make. Tonight we lost our focus twice and we were punished but we can still qualify. We believe we can do it." Will the emerging talent or the veteran striker have the last word in next week's return?