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Athletic's short squad hit by fresher rival

Osasuna powers past Bilbao to enter European qualification fray

Osasuna's players celebrate their second goal next to Athletic Bilbao's forward Iker Muniain (l).
Osasuna's players celebrate their second goal next to Athletic Bilbao's forward Iker Muniain (l). RAFA RIVAS (AFP)

Athletic Bilbao showed last week in Manchester that it has become a hell of a team. In Pamplona on Sunday night, just three days after its heroic and commanding 2-3 Europa League victory at Old Trafford, the all-Basque club showed that it still lacks squad power. Eight of those who started against United were back on the field at Osasuna’s Reyno de Navarra home — by no means a place for the faint-hearted — at 9.30pm on Sunday night. Of the three coach Marcelo Bielsa decided to rest, two were pushed into the action after half time with Athletic already 2-0 down having been twice pierced by aerial dead-ball attacks.

Bielsa’s reshuffling move brought a quick result, when Ander Herrera and Fernando Llorente combined for the latter to blast a fierce shot into the roof of the home net in the 55th minute. But Osasuna held on reasonably comfortably to frustrate Athletic’s Champions League aspirations — a win would have seen the team equal fourth-placed Málaga’s 40 points — and even nip ahead of its great northern rival into sixth place on 38 points.

So is Osasuna ready to go forth into European soccer next season and claim some illustrious scalps of its own? “Each game has its own story. This does not mean we are better than Manchester United,” said coach José Luis Mendilibar, adding: “We have concentrated all week [on the Bilbao match]; we planned it out and played it well.”

Now to see what ammunition Athletic has for the second leg against United, while Osasuna can take it easy as it plots further misery for rock-bottom Zaragoza next weekend.

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