Athletic stage brave comeback but let APOEL off the hook
The Bilbaínos put in a great performance but should have killed the game off with the score at 3-1.
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San Mamés witnessed a classic Athletic Club comeback on what might have been just an ordinary day at the office as Los Leones entertained APOEL in the first leg of this Round of 32 tie. But it was the Cypriot side who took the game by the scruff of the neck from kick-off and laid seige on Iraizoz's goal with three attempts in a hanfdul of minutes - bringing the best out of the keeper.
It took something extra special to beat the Athletic shot stopper, and Georgios Efrem rustled up an exceptional opener. On 35 minutes, the former Arsenal midfielder curled a terrific strike past the keeper's outstretched arm and insdie the post to subdue the home crowd.
The lead lasted little over 90 seconds. Balenziaga unleashed a low, powerful shot which took two deflections - the final one off Giorgos Merkis rocketted upwards and went in off the cross bar.
The second half was an Athletic monologue. Aduriz put the hosts ahead with his seventh goal in six appearances in this edition of the tournament with a typical, angled, killer finish bang on the hour. 11 minutes later Iñaki Williams was well positioned to flick a glanced header past Boy Waterman to make it 3-1. Athletic had the game in the palm of their hand but instead of putting it to bed, they allowed APOEL a late reprieve - Gianniotas was not picked up and left free to pick his spot, blasting low to make it 3-2 on the night and set up an interesting return when the tie is decided in Nicosia next week.