Valencia (Spain) March 5 (IANS) Athletic Bilbao booked their place to play FC Barcelona in the final of this season’s Copa del Rey after winning the return leg of their semifinal 2-1 away to Levante.
Levante have never played a cup final, but went into the game with a slight advantage after a 1-1 draw in Bilbao three weeks ago. A 0-0 would have seen them through. The visitors knew that too and quickly went on the attack against a Levante side that was reasonably happy to sit deep and soak up pressure on Thursday, Xinhua news reports.
Raul Garcia fired Athletic’s first chance just wide after good work from Oscar de Marcos before Roger Marti put Levante ahead by turning and squeezing off a shot from the edge of the six-yard box.
Iker Muniain headed wide for Bilbao when he should have hit the target, but the visitors were level just before the half hour when Oscar Duarte hauled down Garcia, who drilled a powerful penalty high into the corner of the net.
Bilbao kept up the pressure with Yuri Berchiche missing a good chance to cross for Raul, while Muniain shot tamely at Aitor Fernandez when well placed.
The second half began with Unai Lopez stinging Aitor’s hands with a powerful drive, but Levante brought on Enis Bardhi to try and secure possession.
Although the home side did press higher up they still failed to create any clear chances while Bilbao, despite having more problems bringing the ball out of defence, continued to control the game, although all too often the final pass went astray as the game moved on to extra time.
Bilbao manager Marcelino had kept his substitutions for the extra half hour and his side continued to threaten more as the game got stretched, although Unai Simon was called on to make a fine save from Bardhi’s free kick.
The entry of Jon Morcillo produced space for Alex Berenguer with eight minutes remaining and the winger advanced 40 yards before shooting. It should have been comfortable for Aitor but the ball took a big deflection off a back-peddling defender to wrong-foot him and book Athletic’s place in the final.
The Basque side will now play last season’s final (postponed due to the pandemic) against Real Sociedad on April 3rd, before facing Barcelona in this season’s final two weeks later in what surely must be an historic achievement.