Athletic Bilbao are hoping another strong performance at their San Mames home can see them past Sporting Lisbon in Thursday’s semi-final second-leg and into next month’s Europa League final.
The Basque club was too strong for Manchester United and Schalke earlier in this season’s competition but their chances of reaching a second European final — and first since 1977 — are on a knife-edge after a 1-2 defeat in the first leg in Lisbon last Thursday.
Athletic had taken the lead courtesy of a Jon Aurtenetxe goal in Portugal only for Emiliano Insua to equalise and Spanish international winger Diego Capel to give Sporting the upper hand.
However, midfielder Ander Herrera remains confident as to Athletic’s chances in the return. “A 1-0 win would put us through, so we need to be optimistic,” he said. “We are strong at San Mames in front of our fans.” If Athletic make it they will set up the first all-Spanish continental final since Sevilla beat Espanyol in the UEFA Cup in 2007.
The other semifinal might have been decided last week, but a Ricardo Costa header in stoppage time at the Vicente Calderon gave Valencia a precious second away goal in a 4-2 defeat against Atletico Madrid.
Valencia have bl