Former Athletic Bilbao great
Andoni Goikoetxea has tipped the current Europa League
entertainers to beat Portugal's Sporting and set up an
all-Spanish final in Bucharest next month.
The Basque club, coached by the eccentric Marcelo Bielsa,
are aiming for a meeting on May 9 against Atletico Madrid or
Valencia, who start the other semi-final at the Calderon on
Goikoetxea was part of the Bilbao side knocked out of the
old UEFA Cup by Sporting 27 years ago, the only previous meeting
between the sides.
"It will be tough but I'm optimistic because I think Bilbao
are a better team, and for this reason I'm convinced they will
play the final," the former Spain international told sports
"This team has the chance to make history. They already have
a King's Cup final [against Barcelona next month] and we'll see
what happens in the Europa League."
Bilbao have never won a European trophy but have thrilled
neutral fans with a 5-3 aggregate victory over Manchester United
and a 6-4 roller-coaster win over Schalke 04 in the
The club, who only field Basque-born players, have been
praised for their dynamic, attack-minded approach, particularly
on the road where they scored three times at Old Trafford and
four in Gelsenkirchen. They start their semi in Lisbon.
"Bilbao have a clearly defined style and they never go out
to defend," Goikoetxea added. "They are very quick, and are very
strong down the flanks.
"Their best games have been against the big clubs,
especially against Manchester United, and for that reason they
have won European-wide recognition."
Sporting have been revitalised under new coach Ricardo Sa
Pinto and claimed the scalp of big-spending Manchester City in
the round of 16.
"We did not concede any goals against Manchester City and
then scored away and that is fundamental in the knockout stage,"
Sporting's Brazilian midfielder Elias told the club website.
"We must defend well at home, look to score and then, with
the quality we have, I am sure we will get away goals."
The other semi-final pitches 2010 Europa League winners
Atletico against 2004 UEFA Cup winners Valencia.
Atletico beat Valencia on the away goals rule to progress
from the quarter-finals two years ago, but only four players
remain who featured in that game, under new coach Diego Simeone.
The Madrid club have strung together nine consecutive wins
in Europe and in Radamel Falcao have the tournament's second
highest scorer with eight goals.
The Colombia striker top-scored with 17 goals in the
competition last year when he guided former club Porto to
victory in the final over Braga.
Valencia lie third in La Liga, seven points ahead of
eighth-placed Atletico, and are on course to qualify for the
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