Bilbao 1-1 OM: Europe stops in Basque Country

25 feb 2016
Frédéric Rostain, à Bilbao
Photos © 
Yannick Parienti / 2016
The Olympiens did everything necessary to qualify when Batshuayi opened the score at San Mamés. But with just ten minutes left, a goal by Merino clinched the qualification for Bilbao.

OM came very close to getting its qualification. Just a few centimeters of Nkoudou and Mendy's shots, which touched the posts. It was also a matter of a few centimeters when it came to the defense preventing the goal that tied the score. The 1100 Olympiens fans at San Mamés believed that until from the beginning to the 80th minute. Unfortunately, by scoring, Merino punched the ticket for Athletic Club Bilbao to go to the final sixteen of the Europa League.

With the Spanish a goal ahead because of their success in the first leg game in Marseille, Michel put together a staunchly offensive team in 4-4-2 with Batshuayi and Fletcher on offense and a midfield composed of Diarra and Isla for recovery, as well as Cabella and Nkoudou to lead. In the arena at San Mamés, crowded but not full, the locals made the first attempt. With a ball lost by Batshuayi, San José took his chance from far away. After that, OM had not less than six opportunities. Nkoudou missed the goal on a wind up kick. On a badly deflected corner kick, Batshuayi's counter turned into a shot that forced Herrerin to make a huge effort to save it. The Belgian tried it from far away. His ball went a little wide. Cabella's kick was stopped by the Basques' goalie. And finally, on a magnificent relaunch from Mandanda, following a corner kick from Athletic, Nkoudou eliminated Herrerin before shooting from a tight angle. The ball crashed against the post. But the Spanish were in trouble against a Diarra once again in top form and a Mendy-Nkoudou duo that perfectly mastered his left side.
Marseilles' domination was rewarded with a goal by Batshuayi at the 40th minute. In a play initiated by Diarra and continued by Nkoudou, Mendy found Batshuayi. His first attempt was countered but the ball remained in his possession and the second attempt didn't give Herrerin any chance. In the lead, the Basques reacted with a kick from Raul Garcia, easily caught by Mandanda right before the referee's whistle.

The second period, which was less intense, was still very interesting, especially the defensive efforts by OM. The determination of Michel's men to hold on to the lead never wavered. The players made the necessary effort, playing as a team, making sure to cover each other in order to thwart Athletic's offensives. A header from Raul Garcia that passed right by, almost stunned the Olympiens' hopes, just like Susaeta's shot, perfectly slammed by Mandanda. On offense, OM has nothing to be ashamed about either. With a center kick, Mendy found Herrerin's crossbar. Nevertheless, slowly but surely, the Basques had the ball more and won the midfield battle. In the fight against Mendy, Susaeta centered for Merino, who got the best of Manquillo. After the score was tied, Michel played risked everything offensively by putting in Thauvin, filling in for Manquillo and Alessandrini, substituting for Rekik. Without success.

The final whistle sent the 42000 spectators in San Mamès into a state of joy, and sent OM back home where from now on they have to concentrate on Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France.

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