Europa: Athletic eliminates Man United

Athletic Bilbao dominated Manchester United again and showed it is certainly a favorite to win the Europa League after a 2-1 victory that put it into the quarterfinals on Thursday.

The young Basque side picked up right from where it left off in the 3-2 first-leg win as Fernando Llorente and Oscar de Marcos scored either side of halftime in another thrilling, up-tempo game.

Wayne Rooney scored in the 81st for United to complete the Spanish league club’s 5-3 aggregate victory, which should have been by a bigger margin.

United’s shabby European campaign saw the English Premier League leader follow up an unexpected Champions League exit by dropping out of the continent’s second-tier tournament, which Bilbao must be regarded as one of the favorites to win after reaching the last eight of a European competition for the first time since 1977.

”This has been incredible, an unforgettable game,” De Marcos said at San Mames Stadium after helping lead a display reminiscent of Spanish league rival Barcelona through its slick and skillful buildups. ”This is part of Athletic history.”

Alex Ferguson’s team failed to respond to counterpart Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics, and against another Spanish opponent that thrives off possession and quick touches as Barcelona did in beating the Red Devils in two of the past three Champions League finals.

”I don’t think we can complain of the result,” Ferguson said. ”Trying to analyze this season (in Europe) against other seasons is a bit difficult. It’s been a disappointing year.”

Lanky striker Llorente powered home a 23rd-minute opener as he spectacularly volleyed Fernando Amorebieta’s long ball past United goalkeeper David de Gea.

De Marcos was rewarded for his game-long efforts in leading Bilbao’s attack when his shot from a step inside the area took a friendly deflection to leave De Gea helpless and United dejected after 65 minutes.

While Rooney secured some dignity for the visitors with an impressive strike, United was lucky to escape complete humiliation only because of Bilbao’s lack of finishing in a second half where it could have added a handful of goals to the final tally.

”When you have to quantify a result and the rival is Manchester, you can’t ignore those circumstances,” Bielsa said. ”This was a matchup that deserved to be enjoyed.”