Athletic Bilbao’s Copa del Rey semi-final against Levante is finely poised after a 1-1 draw in the first leg at San Mames
Gonzalo Melero netted the opener midway through the first half when he swept in from inside the penalty area following some haphazard Athletic defending.
But Athletic, who are still to play the 2019-20 Copa final, got themselves back on level terms just before the hour as Inigo Martinez climbed highest inside the box to head home from a corner.
The match remained all square and the second leg – at Levante’s Ciudad de Valencia on March 4 – must now produce a victor to advance and face either Sevilla or Barcelona in the April final.
8 – Only Ángel Correa (9) has provided more assists than @LevanteUDen‘ Jorge de Frutos (8) among all @LaLigaEN players in all competitions this season (alongside Iago Aspas, Jordi Alba and Antoine Griezmann). Glove.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 11, 2021
Melero broke the deadlock following a cagey start when he received the ball from Jorge de Frutos near the penalty spot and slotted into the net.
Inaki Williams almost equalised two minutes later with Athletic’s first chance, but his long-range effort was kept out by Daniel Cardenas, before Martinez squandered the hosts’ best opportunity of the first half with a header from Iker Muniain’s corner.
Levante were indebted to goalkeeper Cardenas as Athletic applied pressure straight after the break, first saving Raul Garcia’s diving header and then keeping out a low shot from Williams.
But Athletic deserved their equaliser as Muniain’s outswinging delivery was met by Martinez, who escaped his marker and powerfully headed beyond Cardenas.
Only a superb block by Oscar Duarte denied Alex Berenguer and there was a final chance as another Muniain corner caused panic in the Levante box in the fourth minute of injury time, but Yeray Alvarez could not generate sufficient power with his header and Cardenas gathered.
What does it mean? Athletic can still make history
Athletic have last season’s delayed Copa final against rivals Real Sociedad to play on April 4 and their chance to complete the unprecedented feat of winning the trophy twice in the same month remains a possibility.
They have progressed in nine consecutive knockout rounds in the Copa del Rey – their best run since 11 in a row between 1983 and 1985 (including finals) – but Marcelino’s side will have to be much more clinical in the second leg.
Masterful from main man Muniain
Athletic’s dead-ball expert looked the player most likely to create something and it was no surprise he was the architect of their equaliser from a corner. Muniain made seven key passes and 34 passes in the opposition half – more than any player on either side on both counts.
Roger unable to make his mark
Asked to lead the line, Levante’s Roger Marti failed to make an impression on the game as he did not register a single shot. He also did not touch the ball even once in Athletic’s box and was replaced by the marginally more effective Dani Gomez in the 68th minute.
Both sides are back in LaLiga this weekend, as Athletic head to Cadiz on Monday after Levante host Osasuna on Sunday.