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Athletic Bilbao qualify for Europa League final

Spain,Sports, Fri, 27 Apr 2012 IANS

Bilbao (Spain), April 27 (IANS) Spanish striker Fernando Llorente scored a last minute goal to help Athletic Club Bilbao qualify for the final of the Europa League as they beat Sporting Club de Portugal 3-1 in the semi-final second leg.


Llorente forced the ball home from close range following great work from Ibai Gomez to give Athletic a 4-3 aggregate win over Sporting Club de Portugal following a nerve-wracking game in the San Mames Stadium Thursday.


Athletic replaced the suspended Oscar de Marcos with Ibai Gomez while Javi Martinez returned to the heart of the Basque side's defence after missing the first leg through suspension.


The first half was a pulsating affair with both sides looking to attack. Diego Capel was again a threat for Sporting, while Markel Susaeta and Llorente carried the danger for Athletic, Xinhua reported.


Athletic appealed for a penalty after eight minutes as Llorente looked to be caught in the Sporting area, but referee Martin Atkinson waved play on.


The home side were ahead just after the quarter hour mark as the best move of the game saw Iker Muniain cross for Llorente, who chested the ball for Susaeta to volley past Rui Patricio in Sporting goal.


The visitors now needed a goal and almost had one when Anderson Polga's header was saved by Gorka Iraizoz, while at the other end Ibai and Llorente were both close to doubling Athletic's lead, with Ibai just failing to make contact on a cross and Rui Partirico saving from Llorente.


Sporting equalized two minutes before the break when Ricky Van Wolfswinkle fired home a loose ball following a corner, but in a dramatic end to the half Ibai restored Athletic's lead with a cool finish from inside the area.


The tie was on a knifedge as the second half kicked off and Athletic had the first two chances with Susaeta seeing a shot tipped over. From the resulting corner Amorebieta's header cannoned back off the post.


At the other end Emiliano Insua saw a free kick hit the base of the post, although the referee gave a corner.


It looked as if the game was destined for extra time, but Athletic scored in the 88th minute to set up an all Spanish final.


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