The unbeatable Bilbaoness of Athletic

It was in the 6th minute of the second half of extra-time, the 111th of play, when the semi-final between Athletic Bilbao and Levante was finally decided. Morcillo under pressure on the left just got the ball out to Berenguer, who strode up the middle of the park, closed in on the area and let fly. The ball, en route to the goal, hit Vukcevic’s shoulder, changing its direction and neutralising Aitor’s efforts to stop it. The keeper, a salt statue, could only watch the ball hit the post and go in. The goal left Levante without their dream final, and put Athletic into the unheard of situation of having two finals in 13 days, on 4 and 17 April, against Real Sociedad and Barcelona.

Athletic always slightly on top

It was the decisive moment of a great game, in which Athletic were always slightly on top. But both teams deserve our applause. Great football, cup football, with an imperious first half and a second slightly more contained. The first 45 was a treat, with two teams on the attack, moving up the wings fast, and making chances. Play that had something of tennis about it, back and forth, with danger on every move. In the second half, Levante were possibly suffering from the weight of responsibility and struggled more with the ball. They were dreaming of making club history. Athletic had no such cares, the Copa is their home ground, no matter where they’re playing. It’s their environment.

No Champions League place for Copa champions

It’s always a pleasure to watch cup football. It has a different tension, given the imminence of the irretrievable. I’ve often railed about the fact the Copa champions don’t get a Champions League spot. For me it’s more of an achievement than coming third or fourth in LaLiga, or even second, but UEFA don’t agree and only accept it for entry to the Europa League. But the Cup gives us games like this one, which we even got to enjoy without interruptions from the VAR. It was officiated only by a good referee in form - fast, alert and without making a song and dance about his decisions. Praise for the loser and praise for the winner, whose pure Bilbaoness sees them go on to play two finals one after another.