Bilbao storm back to win at Schalke
Athletic Bilbao continued its surge in Europe Thursday, sweeping aside Schalke in Gelsenkirchen, 4-2, in magisterial fashion as the Europa League quarterfinals got under way.
Marcelo Bielsa's exciting Spaniards were the only visitors to win their Europa League first leg quarterfinal match, but all three others collected potentially valuable away goals in 2-1 defeats to ensure the second leg home matches will start with everything to play for.
The new home of the Europa League is Fox Soccer. This season, every game can be followed on Fox Soccer.com or, via our Twitter feed @FoxSoccerTrax. All of the second leg ties will be played next Thursday, April 5.
Athletic's triumph in Germany was the game of the night. Their slick display tonight reaffirmed a pedigree that had been questioned until they convincingly kayoed Manchester United in the previous round. That doubt now looks very foolish.
Some will find the result unfair to Schalke, but the fact is Athletic could have had many more. As they showed against United, this young Spanish side plays an enthralling, unstoppable style of soccer that opponents are unable to contain. They may well be the future, and even a blast from Spain’s past couldn’t derail them tonight.
That past of course is Schalke's evergreen Raul Gonzalez: the Germans owe him for the fact that they can at least go to Bilbao next week with something to shoot at, although they will require at least three goals to think about a semifinal berth.
The future, of course, is Fernando Llorente. He netted two and Oscar de Marcos and emerging star Iker Muniain added to the tally on a night when Athletic simply shattered a normally stout Schalke defense.
Llorente took advantage of a goalkeeping faux pas from Timo Hildebrand to open the scoring in the 20th minute, but Raul, who made his name in Spain before moving to Germany when Real Madrid deemed him surplus to requirements, struck back not once but twice. Raul tied matters up just a minute after Llorente scored, then put Jermaine Jones' Schalke ahead with a lovely volley on the hour.
Athletic was far from done. Llorente powered in a 72nd minute header off a corner kick, then DeMarcos had a tap-in 10 minutes later after Mathias Schober — who replaced Hildebrand in goal — could only palm a shot directly into his path. Muniain made it 4-2 with a stoppage time finish off a Bilbao counter. Raul hit the post, too, in a grandstand final 15 minutes of an all-action thriller.
Atletico Madrid 2, Hannover 1
Eduardo Salvio's curling, 24-yard shot in the 89th minute gave Atletico Madrid a 2-1 win over Steve Cherundolo's Hannover 96 just when it appeared the Germans would head home on level terms. Falcao's ninth-minute header put Atletico in early command, but Lars Stindl found Mame Diouf with a quality cross in the 39th minute to make it 1-1.
Sporting 2, Metalist 1
In Portugal, Sporting Lisbon was cruising home thanks to goals from Marat Izmailov and Emiliano Insua, but Metalist Kharkiv gained a real lifeline when Xavier Cleiton converted a stoppage time penalty rashly conceded by Sporting keeper Rui Patricio. The second leg in Ukraine suddenly looks wide open. Oguchi Onyewu had to watch his Sporting side from the stands; he is out injured for the season.
AZ Alkmaar 2, Valencia 1
AZ Alkmaar might have had an early penalty when Jozy Altidore was hauled down by Angel Dealbert, but referee Martin Atkinson looked the other way and AZ had to wait until the stroke of halftime to get on top of Valencia. Altidore had a frustrating night; he was very solid but didn’t have the service he deserved.
Australian Brett Holman came from deep to volley the first goal off a corner, and then created the game-winner for Maarten Martens in the 79th minute. In between, Valencia got that vital away goal, a header from Mehmet Topal in the 51st minute.